NEW YORK • At some point last Oct 1, Russell Bucklew was served a gyro, a smoked brisket sandwich, two portions of fries, a cola and a banana split.
The Missouri Department of Corrections gave details of the condemned man's final meal request to a small group of journalists shortly after he was executed at 6.23pm that day.
It was a banal but compelling detail at the end of a wretched drama that started with a homicide and rape in 1996, involved multiple appeals that advanced all the way to the United States Supreme Court and concluded with Bucklew's death by lethal injection.
It is also the grim reality behind the parlour game that those of us with an overly developed interest in our lunch have long loved to play: Just what would your last meal be?
While more than 50 nations have the death penalty and continue to use it, only the US appears to have acquired highly developed literature on its culinary aspect, both popular and scholarly.
There are countless accounts of orders for fried chicken and burgers, for ice cream and chocolate chip cookies; for the food of a great childhood day out, ordered by men – and it is mostly men – about to be executed by the state.
There are academic papers with titles like Final Meals: The Theatre Of Capital Punishment, by Dr Christopher C. Collins, a doctoral candidate at Southern Illinois University when he wrote it in 2009. The article cast the serving of such food as part of the dramatic ritual of state-sanctioned death.
There was the 2007 paper, Last Words, Last Meals And Last Stands: Agency And Individuality In The Modern Execution Process, by Dr Daniel LaChance, then of the University of Minnesota.
He argued that the practice of allowing the condemned to choose a last meal – a selection then amplified by the news media – portrayed death row inmates as "autonomous actors, endowed with agency and individuality". In short, he said, it helped signify them as "self-made monsters who are intrinsically different by choice".
Yet another paper, published in 2012 by the journal Appetite, is a detailed analysis of what the authors refer to as "death row nutrition".
One of the authors was Dr Brian Wansink, who resigned his professorship at Cornell University in 2018 after questions were raised about the methodology used in many of his studies of consumer food choices. Nevertheless, the paper is still regularly quoted, perhaps because of the granular detail it offers.
It analyses 247 last meals, all of them ordered by condemned prisoners in the US from 2002 to 2006.
The average meal came in at 2,756 calories, but four requests, from Texas and Oklahoma, were estimated to have gone beyond 7,000. The choices headed deep into diner territory – 70 per cent of the prisoners asked for fried food. Many requested specific brands: 16 per cent ordered Coca-Cola and three inmates wanted Diet Coke.
These academic studies sit alongside popular representations, like the stark photographic re-creations of last meals by Ms Jacquelyn C. Black or the 2004 cookbook by Mr Brian D. Price, a former Texas prisoner who prepared many of the last meals where he was incarcerated and wanted to share the recipes. He called it Meals To Die For.
In 2011, Texas abandoned the custom last meal fRead More – Source