An interesting story broke this afternoon, December 13, on whether or not Missouri prisons should stop the practice of using a mystery bread, as Missouri Department of Corrections Communications Director Karen Pojmann called it, because in the words of Missouri House member Kimberly Ann Collins (D-St. Louis), "It's gross."  This is according to reports from The St. Louis Post Dispatch (paywalled) and Local Today News.

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Collins wants to ban Missouri prisons from using the mystery bread, which is known as Nutraloaf, as a disciplinary tool. For those not in the know, Nutraloaf, otherwise known by the names, prison loaf, meal loaf, grue, confinement loaf, lockup loaf, or a special management meal, is a loaf made from a range of food including vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, and grains. The ingredients are blended, and then it's baked into a solid loaf according to Wikipedia.

Here's the rub, Pojmann is quoted in the Local Today News story that  Missouri prisons don't use the bread in response to disciplinary issues. She says they use it in situations where an offender uses utensils, food trays, etc. as a weapon of self-harm or violence against others.

To expand on why Collins thinks it should be banned in Missouri prisons, the Local Today News story explains that Collins thinks the food is like feeding someone uncooked meatloaf and that it's inhumane to serve it to people.

So what's Nutraloaf taste like? Edgard D. McDonald II, who worked in corrections and parole probation in California wrote on Quora, Nutraloaf is "Basically the entire meal on a standard issue food tray, poured into a blender, pulverized, pureed, and then poured into a baking pan. After baking it for a time it is served to the inmate. If it's still warm it's sort of bland tasting. If it's cold it's terrible."

He said he only saw it used once when an inmate was using utensils to attack staff, and generally thinks feeding a whole unit the food is a bad idea because deliberately making the food less tasty just gives the inmates another reason to go after the staff.

According to Wikipedia, the mystery bread has been controversial for decades. As early as 1978 in Hutto v. Finney, the Supreme Court made Arkansas stop serving a type of mystery bread when they determined that conditions in the Arkansas Department of Correction prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Courts have gone back and forth on whether Nutraloaf is cruel and unusual too. The Vermont Supreme Court made the state take it off their prison menus because they found the food is designed to be unappetizing and it's against the law to use food as punishment in the state. The District Court for the Western District of Washington said the mystery loaf isn't cruel or unusual, however, it is a punishment, and prisoners are entitled to a due process hearing before being subjected to it.  And the grandstanding sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona won a federal judgment in favor of the constitutionality of the loaf.

While I'm not a big believer that prison should be a comfortable place to live. I'm not a big fan of being cruel just to be cruel. In my mind, I agree with the Vermont Supreme Court that whatever you call this mystery bread, it's designed to be unpleasant. So in this case perhaps representative Collins' contention that the loaf is gross, is enough of a reason to get it taken off the menu in Missouri prisons.

It'll take a law to make that happen because according to Local Today News, Missouri prison officials have no plans to stop serving it.

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