19 November, 2012

A Movable Feast

We call it a “food visit,” but that term is too unrefined, too underwhelming, too boring to describe an event so rare and exciting as a prisoner’s chance to have brought in, from the world beyond, a full meal of real food. Food visits here are an incentive for good behavior, a privilege bestowed only on those of us who remain free of conduct violations for six months. If we mind our Ps and Qs, we’re allowed to schedule two food visits a year. And while some like to expend both of theirs in a single weekend of gluttony, perhaps to accommodate out-of-towners who bring their jailbird acquaintance a grab-bag of barbecue or a bunch of Big Macs, I prefer to space mine out — one in the spring, the other around my birthday, in the fall. It’s the end of November now; guess what’s just around the corner.

Certain of my previous posts expose me as a foodie. I make no bones about my love of eating, and, for being such a slender thing, I can really pack away the grub. In my prior life I ate out at least every other day, cooked frequent meals with friends, delighted in market hopping and grocery shopping, and explored edibles the way BASE jumpers explore tall structures. I considered myself a budding epicure, a gourmand-in-training, a gastronomy wannabe whose idea of a good time involved putting good things in my mouth and chewing them up. Getting full was just a pleasant side-effect. Well, finding good things in prison, edible or otherwise, is hard, so the twice-annual food visits I earn are not only precious for being palate-pleasing, they also allow me a taste of that deep happiness I used to get all the time from communal meals with special people. What I’m saying is that food visits are a big deal.

Mum always brings too much, and I always show my gratitude for her efforts by eating until I can’t. In years past, when the number of allowed visitors was higher, my group of feasters made the event into a spectacle, crowding as many as six chairs around a coffee table stacked high with containers of sumptuous edibles, talking and laughing, our faces flushed with the delight we all felt. Photographs taken of us in the visiting room show us all with expansive smiles, not caring that the space around us is part of a maximum-security penitentiary. I’m not implying that we were the most joyful people in the room, but if pleasure was a contest we’d at least have won some kind of award.

As to the menus, I’ve been treated to all sorts, familiar and strange, over the years: styles from cheap Chinese take-out to Mediterranean delights, meats from skewered lamb to roasted Ecuadorian cui, treats from chocolate-coated marzipan to Indian soan papdi. Just because I’m imprisoned, eating year-round crap, doesn’t mean I must crave the old standbys; comfort food has its place, but sometimes I only want something that’s vibrant with taste, no matter how unusual.

This year, I was very lucky. The prison administration approved me for a food visit on my birthday, the day after Thanksgiving. Four hours with my mother and two dear friends, around a table covered in Mum’s home-cooked German favorites, plus what’s sure to be a mouthwatering Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (a rich Black Forest cake, my very favorite dessert) from a fine Kansas City bakery — what a special birthday it’s going to be. I’m actually excited about turning thirty-four. My stomach is, anyway. Can you hear it rumbling expectantly from there?


  1. I hope you enjoy your upcoming food visit and have a happy birthday & Thanksgiving!

    Melbourne, Australia

  2. Happy birthday & enjoy your feast.



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