Food to die for
And yet, although the modern last meal in America may not be about anything, it has provided the stimulus for activists, artists and, surprisingly perhaps, scientists. Among the artists, Henry Hargreaves set out to photograph recorded last meals , recreating the food and usually doing it the honour of an actual place setting. Those two artists represent, for me, the symbolism and ritual that Cunningham denies. The first looks to last meals for human attitudes to nutrition. The researchers tabulated data on the men and 2 women executed in the US between and And then, rating the last meals for content and specific brand names, they discovered that condemned prisoners ask for more calories, at a single sitting, than the recommended daily allowance.
In this context, people whose shadow of the future is arguably shorter and more consciously known than members of any other group — including combat soldiers — demonstrate food preferences that match with the patterns that are found outside of prisons in resource-poor or food-insecure environments.
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The second paper, by two of the same authors as the first, emerges from a celebrated last meal and a documentary film. Rickey Ray Rector, executed in Arkansas in after Bill Clinton, then the Governor and running for President, failed to intervene, asked that some of the pecan pie he had ordered for dessert be saved so that he could finish it later. Scholars argued that Rector did not understand what was about to happen to him, and therefor should not be executed. The people who denied guilt were more likely to decline their last meal.
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And the people who admitted guilt asked for more calories than those who did not. Furthermore, people who denied guilt mentioned brand name foods far less often than the rest of the sample. But although the findings are suggestive, the numbers are far too small to be really useful. They were less likely to request a meal; and, they requested less [ sic ] calories, but the majority still wanted to eat.
One reason beyond the actual results is their source. The two papers are:. Brian Wansink has been in the news lately. Journals have retracted 13 or 14 of his papers depending on how you count; one was retracted twice over the past couple of years. A couple of days ago he resigned from Cornell.
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The resignation came after Cornell closed its investigation of Wansink who, the report said, committed academic misconduct, including misreporting data. Neither of those two papers appears in any of the lists of retractions I have been able to look at, but still. The normal response to research like this is to say that it ought to be replicated.
But that, I am glad to say, is becoming trickier, even though capital punishment is still alive and well in many countries. Top of the list, in absolute terms, is China, with an estimated plus executions a year. Unfortunately, there is no mention of last meals in the Wikipedia article on Capital punishment in China , and in any case something tells me that a country in which the number of executions is a state secret is unlikely to be a source of data for an independent replication.
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Executions in the USA are down now to about 20 a year, and Texas no longer even grants a last meal, after one prisoner made a mockery of it by ordering all those chicken fried steaks etc. John Wayne Gacy was a party clown for hire and a serial killer, responsible for the deaths of at least 33 boys and young men in the Chicago area, most of whose bodies he buried in the crawl space of his home.
He was called the "Killer Clown," which is the ultimate horror movie fodder. When he wasn't clowning or killing, he managed KFC chains, and after he was caught and sentenced to die by lethal injection, his final meal request was for fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe KFC, french fries, and a pound of strawberries.
A version of this meal was on the menu of a pop-up restaurant in Tokyo called Ningen Restaurant, translated to "human restaurant," along with the last suppers of other infamous death row inmates. This was the ultimate pop-up restaurant for all true crime obsessives, morbidly curious foodies, and generally ghoulish folks. Presented by Chim Pom , a Japanese art collective, Ningen Restaurant's two-week run just ended, with photos hitting social media of other pre-execution meals.
Her last meal was steamed vegetables and fresh strawberries, recreated by Ningen Restaurant here:. Death row inmate Joseph Paul Jernigan was convicted of "cold-blooded murder" after he killed a man whose home he was burglarizing. Before his execution, he reportedly ordered two cheeseburgers with fries and a salad with Thousand Island dressing.
Ningen Restaurant served it like this:. Gary Mark Gilmore committed two murders and was sentenced to death by firing squad.