Food or Fodder

By Adnan Khan #F-55145

People always ask me, “What’s the first thing you’re going to eat when you get out?!”  They ask with excited and impatient faces. They can’t wait to hear what I want to eat. Over the years, my responses have changed. I used to say, “A McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese!  With french fries! And a large drink!” Then I’d watch a Little Caesar’s commercial and my response would switch to, “An extra large pizza with pineapples and jalapeños!” and then all of a sudden, on a hot scorching day, I would say, “A tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream…with sprinkles!”

I noticed a lot of my responses were my childhood favorites. Coming to prison as an eighteen year old, with relatively limited food experience, my teenage likes and dislikes existed and still exist. Over the years I’ve come to realize, I don't know what I want. For one, there are too many options for me that thinking about choices drives me nuts. Two, I don't know what things taste like.

I’m yet to experience “adult” food. It wasn’t until very recently I had an avocado. I was in the visiting room with my sister and there were some avocados resting in the vending machine. My sister bought it so I could “finally try an avocado.” Apparently avocados are a “thing”. Well, not impressive. The texture was mushy and where’s the taste ya’ll? When I told people about my nasty experience, they couldn’t believe it. Word spread like wildfire and I probably shook up the underworld of the avocado community.

I’ve never had sushi either. Doesn't sound appealing. “It’s an acquired taste” is what I always hear. I feel like you shouldn't have to “acquire” a taste. Taste is either there or not there. Pretty simple. Why must I procure it? I’ve been eating prison chow hall food for the past 15 years, I’m yet to “acquire”.

We could, however, buy seafood from the canteen. We could buy oysters and clams and fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, and sardines. They come in a pouch and I put them over top ramen noodles.

I hear a lot about healthy, organic eating. I’m actually very interested in that. Unfortunately, a kale smoothie is not on the menu. I don't have too many healthy eating options in here. I get a banana twice a week and one apple the other five days. That is the extent of fruit. The apples don't taste right to me though. Just this year, we began receiving some whole vegetables. We’ll get either an onion, bell pepper, or tomato sporadically throughout the week. Other than that, the soy meat is hard to eat and according to the grapevine, it takes at least six months for a slice of lunch baloney to go through your system.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the relationship between food and how to incarcerate people. Is there intent behind rationing food, limited taste, limited options? I don't see too many 70 or 80 year olds around here. And I don't think it’s because they are letting people out. Now I don't have any data on this topic, but it makes me wonder, what is the life expectancy of incarcerated people and what role does our diet play in that expectancy? I’m 34 years old now, obviously no longer a teenager, and health has become a concern for me now more than ever. For years I was well aware of the bad food in here, but I bought into the belief that this was what I deserved. Nasty and unhealthy prison food is so normalized in our society. It’s a direct go-to when people think about prison; they think about the violence and the bad food. It’s funny and laughable and most people joke about it. It’s so ordinary that people never question it and furthermore, believe it’s actually okay. “That’s just how prisons are” and therefore it becomes normal to punish people with small cells, limited programs, lack of privacy, slave labor, family separation, and on top of all that, food.

So I’m not sure what my first meal is going to be. I know what it’s not going to be; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a top ramen. Whatever it will be, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it and it will be memorable. However, the freedom of choice, being free in choosing to eat healthy and take care of my body, is what I look forward to the most. My health is very important to me. In the past decade and a half, I’ve been feeding my system whatever’s been fed to me. I feel physically healthy, but icky inside. I run, exercise, and drink a lot of (tap) water. I believe I’ve done the best I could with limited control in what I’m allowed to consume. I’ve been nourishing my mind and my spirit since I’ve been in prison. I can’t wait to get out and finally nourish my body.

About First Watch

First Watch is a media project started at San Quentin State Prison. All content is shot, directed, edited, and scored by the journalists inside prison.

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