Not Your Grandma’s Meatballs: A Sneak Peek at Jail Food in Teton County | Cops and courts
Behind a glass partition in the visitation room of Teton County Jail, inmate Zach Ladnier describes one of the best meals he has ever had.
“Once a week we had French toast, and it was the best French toast I have ever eaten in my life,” he said. “There was this thick bread, and it was covered in syrup and bacon.
Ladnier wasn’t at a five-star brunch restaurant with friends when he had the best French toast he had ever eaten.
He was a prisoner at the Wyoming Corrections Department Honor Farm in Riverton.
“I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so good,” he says. “The food here makes me miss jail.”
But Ladnier admitted he enjoyed the spaghetti.
Keeping inmates fed at Teton County Jail can be costly due to the small inmate population. And while the corporate entrepreneur who supplies the food strives to deliver nutritious recipes that appeal to inmates, some, like Ladnier, question quality and portions. The corporate correctional food company also recently put the kibosh on the Jackson Cupboard’s weekly food donations, saying it was too risky to serve food left in jail and uncontrolled.
The county jail’s food contract is up for auction soon, which happens regularly, but Sheriff Matt Carr said his office only had one bidder: Summit Food Service.
For less than 21 inmates in total, meals cost $ 10.27 each, although in the latest proposal, they hit $ 10.63, Lt. Chett Hooper said. For institutions with 45 or more inmates, meals cost $ 6.04 each. Teton County hardly ever has more than 21 people in custody. As of Monday, there were seven inmates.
Food in prisons and prisons is constantly changing and has not always been a corporate industry.
The Teton County Jail used to have their meals delivered by the hospital. Before that, it was a local restaurateur who prepared and delivered the meals. Nowadays, meals are prepared on site by two or three cooks hired by Summit.
The inmates do not hesitate to complain about the food.
“I haven’t seen a salad since I’ve been here,” former inmate Casey Hardison said.
While some meals are better than others, Ladnier doesn’t particularly like a dish.
“They’re like frozen meatballs, and it’s cooked with gravy,” he says. “It’s the worst thing I’ve eaten. Many of us compare it to dog food. “
Although it sounds harsh, food preparers are heeding these comments.
Food in prisons and prisons varies depending on who prepares the menus and who prepares the food.
At the Wyoming Corrections Department, inmate workers prepare a large portion of the meals and they are prepared on site. A contract dietitian develops menus based on food allowances prescribed by the federal government.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time and in my experience Wyoming cooks some really good meals,” said Paul Martin, deputy administrator of the Department of Corrections’ transparency division. “A lot of it is bought off the shelf, but we grow some of our own produce.”
Martin was quick to defend the food, despite its poor reception, at the Teton County Jail: “Just because they don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t. nutritious, ”he said.
Hardison described “hockey puck burgers” and meals high in carbohydrates and lacking in protein, leaving inmates hungry.
“It’s just enough food to piss off an 8-year-old,” he says.
Hardison said it was common to buy snacks in the canteen between meals to supplement.
He also raised a concern about food waste.
“Eat it all or throw it all out,” he said.
Jackson Cupboard volunteer Ben Read delivered fruit and other assorted snacks to inmates, but Summit Food Service stopped allowing donations.
“We don’t take their donations because we buy from approved suppliers,” said Justin Urrizaga, district regional manager for Summit Food Service. “It was nothing against him. … but I don’t know what he did with it.
Urrizaga said he could not compromise the safety of detainees by accepting outside donations.
“Do expired pretzels go wrong? I don’t know, ”he said. “But if the expiration date is wrong, we can’t serve them. We meet 100% of their nutritional needs. “
According to Emily Dale, dietitian at the Summit Food Service, nutrition is an important factor when designing menus in correctional facilities. They get their ingredients the same way restaurants do, delivered by approved suppliers. Their most popular dishes at any facility are pizza, cheeseburgers, spaghetti and meatballs, she said.
“The most important factors in developing a menu for a correctional facility are taste, variety and nutrition,” said Dale. “The menus are based on our tested recipes which offer great flavor thanks to the spices and a variety of ingredients.”
These recipes are constantly changing, said Urrizaga.
“We frequently adjust the menus,” he says. “If no one likes spaghetti and everyone complains, we’ll change the menu to replace it. It just has to meet the same nutritional needs. “
If inmates refuse a meal, nothing else is brought to them, Ladnier said.
He often hears inmates complaining about food.
“A lot of people will fire him,” he said. “But then you don’t eat.”
Urrizaga, who manages the kitchens of 12 correctional facilities in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, said they took the comments seriously.
“If we serve meals, the inmates don’t care, it does me a disservice to keep giving them,” he said. “When they’re constantly upset because they don’t like food, it doesn’t help anyone.”
Urrizaga doesn’t like the cliché attached to food in prison.
“People say it’s ‘detainee food’, and that drives me crazy,” he said. “It’s the same as restaurants. I order from all the same vendors as the restaurants. “
Urrizaga travels between his dozens of establishments, but he has two cooks who work in a kitchen on the ground floor of the Teton County Jail.
There isn’t much room for creativity in the kitchen, as nutritional guidelines are set by the federal government.
“They say how much protein we serve each day and what vitamins and minerals are served in a seven day period,” Urrizaga said. “We follow the same guidelines as schools to ensure proper nutrition.”
Some meals are cooked to order for inmates with food allergies or religious dietary restrictions.
“We live in a country where religious freedom reigns,” Urrizaga said, “as it should be. … so we can’t tell them we won’t honor him. I don’t want anyone to violate my personal religious beliefs. “
Not all prisons or prisons in the United States honor religious regimes, but Teton County Jail does so on request, Urrizaga said.
“You could have a Muslim diet that isn’t pork or a kosher diet,” he says. “We have guidelines on how we prepare their food.”
If someone is a vegetarian, there are modified meals to make sure the inmate is still getting enough protein, Urrizaga said.
Urrizaga said he ate the meals all the time. Her favorite dish is chili mac, a dish with chili pasta.
“I’ve always viewed it as… if you’re incarcerated, whether you’re convicted or not, food shouldn’t be part of the punishment,” he said. “I do my best to provide good meals to everyone.”
Overall, Sheriff Carr said he was quite happy with Summit’s services. Having meals prepared on site actually reduces food waste, he said, and it’s more convenient.
“Before, we had to call the hospital every morning and tell them how many detainees we had,” he said. “Then, if someone got out of prison, there was a supplement. And we had to pick it up and send the trays back to the hospital twice a day. It was hard.
Carr also said that when you measure the food costs and expenses of Summit employees, it’s not the worst deal for Teton County.
“If you think about it, it’s a pretty good deal,” he said. “There’s nowhere else in Jackson where you can eat for $ 10.”