Not Just Desserts

Who can eat at a time like this? The meal is brought to your table, a delicious free dinner with everything you wanted; but, as is standard practice, you have to eat it while facing the room where you’ll soon be put to death. It is the ritualistic concept of the last meal; the ultimate gift bag before you have to leave the party of life.

It’s nothing new to civilization. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese were all sympathetic to a hungry person about to be executed. It’s somehow in the human DNA. It must have been evolutionarily beneficial for monkeys to share bananas with other monkeys they planned on killing to lessen the guilt.

Whether or not you believe in capital punishment, you’re bound to agree that a last meal is a deserved courtesy. Even Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, got to eat two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream before being executed and meeting the big psychopath in the sky.

However, depending on where the execution takes place, the last meal may or may not be to the prisoner’s utmost satisfaction. For example, although Jimmy McNulty of The Wire tries his best to solve Baltimore’s highest homicide rate in the country, the state of Maryland doesn’t even offer a last meal to prisoners on death row. And in Florida the price of ingredients for a last meal cannot exceed $20. Most states replace lobster with fish, and filet mignon with T-bones.

If you want to do it right, the best meals offered to condemned criminals are in the state whose name is synonymous with extra large portions. Texans are evidently proud of this fact—they are one of the only states to list the final meal requests of all executed prisoners on-line.

For example, Larry Hayes, a Texan inmate convicted of shooting his wife in the head eight times, ordered “two bacon double cheeseburgers, French fries, onion rings, ketchup, cole slaw, two diet Cokes, one quart of milk, one pint of rocky road ice cream, one pint of fried okra, salad dressing, tomato, and onion.”

And Kia Bexar, who shot the clerk of a Stop-N-Go for $23, chose “four fried chicken breasts, onion rings, fried shrimp, french fries, fried catfish, double-meat cheeseburger with grilled onions, strawberry fruit juice, and pecan pie.”

And then there’s contract killer Richard Williams, who ordered “two chili cheese dogs, two cheeseburgers, two orders of onion rings with French dressing, turkey salad with French fries, chocolate cake, apple pie, butter pecan ice cream, egg rolls, one peach, three Dr. Peppers, jalapeno peppers, ketchup, and mayonnaise.”

With nutritional factors being moot, it’s no surprise either that none of the meals were particularly healthy. Yet while some chose complete gluttony, others selected more particular, unique meals. Like John Elliot, executed for killing a young girl with a motorcycle chain, who only had “hot tea and six chocolate chip cookies.” Or Stacey Lawton, who shot owner during home invasion and only wanted a single jar of dill pickles. Or Kenneth Gentry, who murdered someone to steal their identity, and had “a bowl of butterbeans, mashed potatoes, onions, tomatoes, biscuits, chocolate cake and Dr. Pepper with ice.”

Overall, the majority of inmates chose hamburgers over steak, ice cream over cheesecake, and fried chicken over cordon bleu—pure comfort food, a trademark of human nature.

Morbidly idiosyncratic, the last meal is interesting for the same reasons that murderers are constantly represented on television, in books, and in the media. Even though they compromise a very small portion of society (Vancouver’s murder rate is 2.41 per 100,000 people), the general public is fascinated by homicide. Vice Magazine recently reported that a Toronto food delivery service is capitalizing on the fact, charging $20 to have replicas of the last meals of famous serial killers delivered to customers’ houses. Whether it’s the Robert Pickton case or watching an episode of Matlock, violent crimes always seem to pique curiosity.

Last meals are unique features that define a depth of personality. They reflect more of the inmate’s character, further defining them as real people in the minds of the hungry public. Somehow it’s easier to understand someone when you find out that they like to eat dill pickle chips as well. Many inmates decline to eat anything before being executed, and even this signal of anxiety and suffering becomes something we relate to. Texan Robert Madden, executed for murdering two people (one of whom was his own son), asked that his last meal be given to a homeless person.

Good food really is the best temporary pleasure in life, an instant reminder of how sweet some of the things in life can be. The delicate balance of well prepared pho or the brilliant gluttony of all-you-can-eat sushi are classic examples of the happiness behind flavour. Aside from rock-your-body orgasms, eating good food is the most enjoyable and satisfying part about being human. Even though last cigarettes are now forbidden, and a cold beer is out of the question, it’s somehow reassuring to know that even if you’ve been convicted of killing dozens of children, you’ll still be offered a delicious meal before getting pushed out the door of life.

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