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The Last Meal

One of the most heated topics of debate both in legal circles and the mainstream is the death penalty.  Regardless of one’s personal stance on the death penalty, many people often have difficulty answering the question “What would your last meal be?”

On September 23, 2010, for the first time in almost 100 years, the commonwealth of Virginia executed a woman, Teresa Lewis, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to two counts of capital murder for hire of her husband and stepson.  For her last meal, Ms. Lewis requested fried chicken, sweet peas, Dr. Pepper and either German cake or apple pie for dessert.

I had always assumed that prisoners can request whatever he or she wants, but Slate has an interesting article that debunks that myth and gives the basic ground rules, notably:

Final meals are generally limited to food that can be prepared on-site. Virginia prisons have a 28-day rotating menu—for example, hot dogs on the first day of the cycle, chili on the second day, etc.—and prisoners facing imminent execution are limited to one of the 28. Other states are more flexible. In Texas, the chef at the Huntsville unit where executions take place tries to accommodate any order. But sometimes that means cooking a close approximate. When an inmate requests filet mignon—which happens a lot—the chef will instead cook up a steak hamburger, since that’s what they already have in the kitchen. When a Texas inmate requested 24 tacos, the chef made four. In Florida, last meals must be purchased locally and can’t cost more than $40. Alcohol is almost never allowed, since the prisons don’t want rowdy inmates on their hands.

Slate also notes that “[t]he most popular request is a cheeseburger and fries. Steak, fried chicken, and ice cream are also common.”  Notorious criminals have had interesting requests.  John Wayne Gacy asked for shrimp, fried chicken, French fries, and a pound of strawberries. Timothy McVeigh ate two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Curious, I asked a number of people what their last meals would be, assuming the above rules did not apply.  The food items rattled off usually fell into one of two categories: (1) decadent foods (i.e., price is no object — steak, sushi, oysters, caviar, etc.) and (2) comfort foods (i.e., what favorite dish you grew up eating).

For me (still assuming there are no restrictions), I would start the meal with a dozen Kumamoto oysters with a good, crisp ale.  The menu would also have to include a perfectly grilled ribeye steak (rare) paired with a lobster tail and grilled corn.  Some other items include crab cakes, nigiri sushi with toro and uni and Chick-fil-a.  A bowl of my mom’s pho would also be thrown in there somewhere.  I know this sounds like a ridiculous amount of food, but it’s all a hypothetical, and I’m just throwing out some of my favorite foods.

So, given no restrictions and knowing you had only one meal left, what would you want?

  1. May 6, 2013 at 12:51 AM

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  2. April 15, 2013 at 11:53 PM

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  3. June 15, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    This information isn’t true; how do I know? Because I wrote the book! While researching Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals from Death Row, I found that every state has different rules regarding the last meal. Many states allow food to be ordered from nearby restaurants, or for the ingredients to be bought from grocery stores before the food is prepared in the prison kitchen. Some states have a price limit, some don’t.—Ty Treadwell

    • June 22, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      Take your complaints to Slate and Christopher Beam (jcbeam@gmail.com), the original author of the article I quoted and linked to in my post. This is a supposed to be a fun, snarky (read: non-academic and quasi-fictional) blog about food. We are not a fact-checking service. I understand you’re trying to sell some books but take it elsewhere.

      • Ty Treadwell
        July 23, 2011 at 9:57 AM

        Calm down, dude. I know fun. I know snarky. They’re practically relatives of mine. And you’re right, it was the original article you quoted that contained the misleading information. I just wanted to share the real info, which I’m sure many of your readers would be interested in.

  4. michelle
    October 6, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    I was going to say Chick-fil-A even before I read down that far in the post. And not just the waffle fries with polynesian sauce either. At least if I’m about to die I won’t have long to live with the guilt or GI effects. I could also see going the Timothy McVeigh route.

  1. March 22, 2012 at 10:46 PM

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