Last Meals Not to Die For
On Unneeded Business Meetings and Death Penalty Catering


There are times you don’t need to eat. For example: at business meetings and waiting for your execution.

Last meals, like desert island lists, aren’t so much nourishment as “best of” top ten popularity rankings:  “What food would you like to take with you on a desert Island? —  in this case, the Island of Death.

But last meals are also last statements — a culinary tombstone if you will.  The pre-execution serving for Ted Bundy of steak, eggs, hash browns and coffee means something entirely different than “Tookie” Williams bowl of oatmeal and milk. 

In the good old days of guillotines, last meals served as a foregiveness card — from the executioner to the executionee and back again.  Since communal snacking was a gesture of friendship, last meals were exercises in bonding (as far as that goes).  The executioner and executionee would share a bit of gallows humor and nosh a bit.  After all, if they didn’t, the ghost of the executed may return on an empty stomach.

In current times of service societies, however, last meals are confusing, if not pointless, exercises.  Are they a Make a Wish Foundation last right?  Or are they our government’s way of saying “Hi, my name is Rick. I’ll be your executioner, today.  You’re about to receive a lethal injection, but first how may we serve you?

At best, last meals are a vague Judeo-Christian replica of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples, before he was nailed to a cross — a kind of last supper for condemned criminals.  But are they needed?  I think not.

Thomas Grasso was sentence to death for strangling 87-year-old Hilda Johnson with her Christmas tree lights.  Before he was executed, Grasso — a man presumably with a long desert island list — requested a last meal of two dozen steamed mussels, two dozen steamed clams, a Burger King double cheeseburger, a half-dozen barbequed spare ribs, two strawberry milkshakes, half a pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream and diced strawberries and a 16-ounce can of SpaghettiOs with meatballs, served at room temperature.  This meal was not necessary.

Speaking of unnecessary, business meeting meals may be even more gratuitous than last meals.  Why?  Because business meeting catered affairs are the battleground of two different food philosophies.  In one corner you have the host, who wants to impress his guests with a lavishly excessive layout — an array of deli concoctions, finger foods, exotic hors d'oeuvres and the obligatory vegetable dip collection.   In the other corner, you have the guests, who want to impress with their sophistication and the fact that they’re not pigs.  This match of opposites leads to mounds of overpriced leftovers, which are usually tossed in the dumpster. Mini Muffingates, like these, happen everywhere, everyday.  Muffingate, for the record, is a scandal being investigated by The US inspector general’s office involving the taxpayer financed eating habits of Justice Department conference attendees.  Apparently, among the vast array of food items funded by you and me, were $32 Crackerjacks, $5 apiece meatballs, and $16 muffins.

Which brings us to the state of Texas.  In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’m against the death penalty.  So, as you can imagine, I’m not a big fan of the Lone star state’s over-zealous use of capital punishment.  But recently, Texans did get one execution detail right.  Prison officials there decided to end the practice of allowing condemned inmates to request a last meal.  Damn straight.

It happened after Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of the men who chained James Byrd Jr. to a pick-up truck and dragged him to his death, was granted a last meal of two chicken-fried steaks, one pound of barbecued meat, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lover's pizza, three fajitas, an omelet, a bowl of okra (with ketchup), one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream, a slab of crushed-peanut peanut-butter fudge and three root beers. Brewer was served the meal and then snubbed it.  Pushed it aside.  Rubbed it in the Lone Star face.  As a result, he was executed on an empty stomach.

Fair enough, but let’s not stop there.  In the future, if we really want to bring down capital punishment on someone, let’s charge them for their last meal at the going government rate.  We can bill the condemn prisoner $32 for a muffin, shoot them full of Potassium chloride, watch them fade to black, and hope they left a big tip.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast September 30, 2011

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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