Death Row Dining

Death row meals recreated by James Reynolds

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A taste for the macabre.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh ate nothing but mint chocolate chip ice cream.
John Wayne Gacy had fried chicken—a death row favorite.
Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann wanted only a nice dry red from Israel’s Carmel Winery.

We are morbidly fascinated by the last meals of the condemned.
It’s as if there’s vestigial blood lust deep in the primal part of our brains—even when we vehemently oppose the barbarism of the death penalty.
We look for clues, parsing the food preferences of criminals, thinking we might gain insight to their monstrous behavior.
We wonder what we would choose. A meal of rare delicacies? Comfort food?

The tradition of a special last meal has been with us for as long as we’ve had the death penalty. It probably came from ancient funeral rites when people would be entombed with food for the journey to the afterlife. It’s offered in some form on death row in every death penalty state. Prisons typically prepare last meals in their own kitchens or order in from local restaurants, usually setting a $20 maximum for the meal, although it can go as high as $40.

Some prisoners, as you might expect, don’t have much of an appetite on their last day on earth. One Tennessee convict declined a last meal but requested that pizza be distributed to the homeless in Nashville; Karla Faye Tucker didn’t even touch her fruit plate, and Victor Harry Feguer, the last federal execution for 40 years until Timothy McVeigh, requested a single, unpitted black olive (the pit was later buried with him in his suit pocket). Arkansas convict Ricky Ray Rector, feeling full after his final meal of steak, fried chicken, and cherry Kool-Aid, said he wanted to save his pecan pie for later.

Chefs love to play the last supper game in their kitchens. Most would seek perfection in simplicity: fried chicken (Tyler Florence), a hot dog (Jacques Pepin), linguini and clams (Lidia Bastianich); but some would pile on the truffles, caviar, and foie gras (Thomas Keller, Gary Danko); and one (Laurent Tourondel) would sit down to dine in his own restaurant. See what Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and others would choose before they bid adieu in My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals.

Dead Man Eating Weblog has documented every last meal request since 2002.

Pizza? Chinese? Feeling like those have been done to death?
Toronto-based Last Meals Delivery Service will bring a replica of a death row prisoner’s final meal, along with biographical details and a mask of the face of the condemned.

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One Response to Death Row Dining

  1. Monet says:

    Isn’t it funny how fascinated we are with these morbid details? I found myself wanting this post to keep on going! I don’t know what I would chose…probably a loaf of crusty french bread, a chunk of cheese and a good glass of wine.

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