Dead man dining: Infamous last meals (fried foods top the list)

If I were soon to "walk the mile," this would be a real problem for me. I will be a gastronome until the bitter end, and would face my impending demise most likely disappointed with my final feast. Knowing that there is no haute cuisine on death row along with my preposterous obsession with food may just be enough to keep me from killing anyone. The thought of being executed after eating a sub-par meal is simply unacceptable.

Had Jeffery Dahmer been sentenced to die in a state that permitted capital punishment and, of course, not beaten to death by his fellow inmates in prison, I speculated on what he might have chosen for his last earthly dinner. Images of Hannibal Lecter came to mind ("A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."). Insert slurping sounds here.

According to Wikipedia some of the most unusual last meal requests by infamous killers include:

  • Allen Lee Davis: 350-pound "Tiny" Davis had one lobster tail, fried potatoes, a half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clams, half a loaf of garlic bread, and 32 ounces of A&W root beer.

  • Dobie Gillis Williams ate 12 candy bars and some ice cream.

  • Donald Snyder gained over 150 pounds in an unsuccessful bid to be unable to fit in the electric chair. He requested pork chops and eggs "and plenty of 'em!".

  • Gordon Fawcett Hambly, who suffered from indigestion, a lobster salad.

  • James Edward Smith requested a lump of dirt, which was denied. He settled for a small cup of yogurt.

  • Victor Feguer requested a single olive with the pit still in.

After extensive research I found that, across the board, fried foods — especially fried chicken — appear to be at the top of the list as most requested. John Wayne Gacy, the notorious "Killer Clown," consumed a dozen deep-fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, french fries, and a pound of strawberries for his final meal. Burgers, pizza, eggs, soda, cakes, pies and ice cream also rank high.

Many inmates' requests are voluminous: whole pizzas with all the toppings, multiple cheeseburgers, gallons of ice cream, buckets of fried chicken, a dozen or more eggs, entire loaves of bread, numerous steaks — I suppose when one is facing the final countdown one might as well go all out. However, in this situation I believe I would attempt to choose quality and variety over quantity. I wouldn't want to face my final moments in gastrointestinal distress.

Facing execution, what would I choose as my final meal before death? This would be quite a conundrum as I could easily create a list of foods a mile long. So let's say I can choose 12 items (so much for quality over quantity — I want both). Removing the factors of budget and proximity limitations, my menu would include:

  • Oysters on the half shell, the oysters from the Atlantic as I prefer their salinity

  • A perfectly poached farm-fresh egg over toasted Cuban bread with Hollandaise sauce

  • Some rich, creamy sheep's milk cheese such as Idiazabal from Spain

  • Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and truffles, the pasta fresh and the truffles shaved in copious amount on top

  • A medium-rare rack of lamb, which I would not hesitate to send back if not properly cooked

  • Corn on the cob with lots of butter and salt, ideally my scheduled execution taking place in summer when corn is in season

  • My mother's homemade macaroni and cheese

  • A BLT with extra mayo, with no cheap bacon, only the good kind, and ripe tomatoes

  • Potato chips, specifically thick, crunchy kettle cooked variety

  • A dark chocolate brownie made with Valrhona chocolate

  • a great bottle of Zinfandel

  • a shot of espresso, to help me digest

While some of these items may not seem like classic comfort foods, as an epicurean, they are to me. I would want to leave this world satiated, knowing that I have eaten my fill of this gourmand's most cherished culinary delights that the world has to offer.

Speculating about a final menu can tell a lot about a person. Think about what your own requests would be and why you would choose those things. Enjoy those foods and your freedom. And stay out of trouble — no one wants prison food for their last meal, especially those of us with a discerning palate.

On Thursday September 23rd, 2010 Teresa Lewis (the first woman on Virgina's death row in 100 years) was administered a lethal injection for her role in the murders of her husband and stepson. Reportedly her requested last meal consisted of two fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, German chocolate cake, apple pie and a Dr. Pepper.

Intrigued after reading this, I realized that I had discovered a way to combine the subject of food and my fascination with abnormal psychology, specifically the minds of murderers. My natural morbid curiosity begged the questions of "What do death row inmates choose for their last meal, and why?".

I am not here to take a stance on the the death penalty; how I feel about it is irrelevant. Also I intend no disrespect to the victims of the crimes committed, nor to deprecate the gravity of this polarizing subject. I want to focus on the last meal as a way to try to understand how food is used for comfort even in the most extreme and unusual circumstances. We eat when we are celebrating, we eat when we grieve and, apparently, we eat when facing our own mortality.

Currently 35 of our 50 states permit capital punishment, with Texas being the leader in executions and Florida ranking 7th. Interestingly, in Florida the budget for an inmate's last meal is set at $40, double the $20 limit set by most other states, and all ingredients must be purchased locally. So there will be no lobster flown in from Maine, fresh truffles from France or imported Russian Beluga caviar.


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