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1946 Alcatraz Prison menu

  • j

Inside Scoop photo'ed a copy and put on the sfgate website. Fun little read!


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  1. Reads like the notorious were dining better than the average American citizen in 1946!

    1 Reply
    1. re: RedTop

      Hate to break this to you if it's news, but many "average American citizens in 1946" ate better than they do *now* -- that's the real comparison.

      In 1946 if you needed ground beef, you ground it in your home crank grinder (I just sold three of those that had been in my family), or your butcher ground it to order. Ground beef was fresher, tasted better, didn't sit around for days wrapped in plastic (after bulk transport with components of hundreds of animals from several countries).

      Many foods hadn't yet become dumbed- or numbed-down. People hadn't yet contrived today's notion that ketchup is something made always from tomatoes, commercially, syrupy-sweet (ketchups were still understood as conserves, made easily at home, from walnuts or mushrooms or lobster, or tomatoes -- without sugar). Vegetable and seafood salads were accompanied by Russian dressing (the fad for thinning it down to flavorlessness and dubbing the result "thousand island" was just starting to surface in cookbooks in the late 1940s). Restaurateurs hadn't yet started adding cream to fettucine al' Alfredo (prompting derived terms today like "Alfredo sauce," something unknown in Italy, or to Alfredo di Lellio himself).

      Commercial processed food makers hadn't yet learned that consumer preference would reward them for insinuating sugars into everything from bread to mayonnaise to "French" salad dressing (which still then meant what it has mostly meant in US cookbook history: a vinaigrette, unsweetened).

      The US actually saw some of it best and worst cookbooks right at that time. Two trends coincided: longtime traditions like quality fresh seasonal ingredients, learning to cook from skilled parents preserving family recipes, and rich immigrant and native repertoires, were being slowly forgotten. Convenience foods, shortcut cooking (foundation: Campbell's condensed canned soups-- the "TV Dinner" would follow soon), hokey ingredients like food coloring, "polyunsaturated" trans-fat artificial shortenings, and canned preground flavorless "Parmesan cheese," were ascendant.

      A lot of the pundit-heralded rediscovery of US good food sensibilities over the last couple of decades has consisted of throwing off habits learned only in the preceding few decades, and often called innovations at the time.

    2. Somewhere on-line I once found a site that listed the final meal requests of death row inmates, I think in Texas. Some interesting and a lot of fried chicken.

      4 Replies
      1. re: chocolatetartguy

        Ever started shopping in a market moments after deep fried chicken was burned?

        1. re: RedTop

          You are one sick dude. :)

          That menu kind of looks like what you might see at Tadich or Musso & Franks.

        2. re: chocolatetartguy

          When I was at Mother Jones we featured a photo series on this topic...


          1. re: emraguso

            Some seriously odd choices there (8 liters of soda and 8 fruits????). But at least none of them really broke the bank.

        3. IIRC from my decades-ago Alcatraz tour, they overfed the prisoners on purpose: they wanted them too fat and out of shape to swim away.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I remember that as well. The warden figured if the inmates were well-fed there would be less complaining, less trouble. The only other thing I remember from that tour was you had to eat everything you put on your tray.

          2. At first glance it looks like the midday meal--supper, a.k.a., lunch--was the largest meal of the day. The evening meal--dinner--has less meat and/or lighter-sounding entrees. From the way my parents & grandparents talked, I suspect making lunch/supper the big meal of the day was more common 50 or 100 years ago; less so today.

            1. Robust fare with not a lot of processed shit! Better than the average joe in 2013.

              1. Wow, better than what I enjoyed (?) at an expensive boarding school 20 years later, but deliberately not designed for the long distance swimmer.

                1. Excuse me, Kids, but in 1946 I was thirteen years old, and believe me, by the diet standards of the day, this is "subsistence food." As for Alcatraz tour guides who tell people the diet was designed to keep inmates fat so they'd be too fat to swim, that's ridiculous! By the standards of the day, this was not a luxurious menu. Remember, the year is 1946, one year after WWII ended. This was 8 years before Swanson introduced the first TV dinner (it cost 98 cents!), and scratch cooking was the norm, even for the poorest families who may well have cooked over camp fires.

                  And PLEASE! No one should be impressed by a 1946 "Puree Mongol"! The recipe of the day was in The Joy Of Cooking, and was made by combining a can of Campbell's Split Pea Soup and a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, one soup can of milk, one julienned carrot, one julienned celery stalk and a dash of dry sherry. By state law, the "chefs" of San Quentin would have been obliged to omit the sherry.

                  Historically, 1946 was the first year post World War II when canned goods were returning to grocer's shelves in full force. During the was metals were pressed into service for "the war effort."

                  Taking things out of context and comparing them to today is always a mistake. You can Google the San Quentin website to find out how many prisoners actually escaped from San Quentin. That was a VERY DIFFICULT swim (most called it "impossible"), with terrible currents, and most prisoners who were not shot on the spot attempting to escape, drowned on their way to dry land.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    The swim is far from impossible for people who are in shape and experienced swimmers. There's actually a club for people who have done it 100 times! http://www.alcatraz100.com/

                    The diet they fed the prisoners at Alcatraz was very high carb and about 500 calories a day over the expected caloric intake of a man not involved in physical labor.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      And how many of those "civilian" swimmers made their swims in the years that Alcatraz was an up-and-running Federal Prison? That swim is not in the category of casual swimmers, and I daresay NONE of the people in the group featured on the webpage you link to made their swims with crack marksman prison guards taking lethal aim at them and pulling the trigger!

                      Additionally, dietary needs based on government/health department recommendations were non-existent in 1946. They were not introduced until the 1960s. In 1946, caloric intake equations with work/exercise output were a thing of the future. It was an age of snail male, NO television, and scratch cooking. The telephone (hard wired by Ma Bell) was the primary electrical (analog) means of long distance rapid communication, and even at that, it was slow by today's standards, and far from every household had a telephone.

                      Today we live in an age when the total sum of all knowledge accrued by man since the stone age doubles EVERY TWO YEARS! Compared to today's knowledge base and the rapidity of information dissemination, 1946 was THE STONE AGE...!!!

                      The ONLY point I'm trying to make here is that when you look back in history, whether it be 50 years or 5,000, NEVER assume that what we know today was common knowledge then. Time doesn't work that way! '-)

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        The point remains: it's not impossible to swim from Alcatraz; the best marksman in the world is ineffective in the fog that surrounds Alcatraz much of the time; the information about the diet at Alcatraz, given by park rangers, compared it to what was being provided at other prisons at the same time.

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Caroline darlin', I agree with everything you said, except for the "snail male" snipe...:)

                          1. re: Veggo

                            LOL! LOL!! LOL!!! Just shows to go you that sometimes spell checkers are NOT user friendly! '-)

                            I will now go and edit!

                            Well, I guess I won't! I can't find it, and if I could, I've lost the edit option... Oh, well....

                            Wanna be my editor???

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Not to worry. Its carved in stone! '-)

                      2. re: Caroline1

                        Thanks for the recollections, Caroline1.

                        'No one should be impressed by a 1946 "Puree Mongol"! The recipe of the day was in The Joy Of Cooking, and was made by combining a can of Campbell's Split Pea Soup and a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, one soup can of milk, one julienned carrot, one julienned celery stalk and a dash of dry sherry...'

                        A-yup. Part of what I mentioned earlier re best and worst cookbooks. Indeed that recipe is downright cosmopolitan for that particular JOC edition (which I have, and others): fresh vegs. and sherry (even if Dept. of Corrections omitted it); the book is crowded with other recipes seasoned only and always with salt, pepper, and paprika.

                        Or built from various Campbell's condensed soups in creative, astounding, unnatural combinations. A vestige of the very first, amateur-produced JOC edition, based fundamentally on canned foods. Wartime scarcity delayed the evolution and re-invention of that cookbook title; but even in the 1960s, it was reluctant to let go of all the resourceful ideas for combining Campbell's soup flavors, along with cheese, marshmallows, food coloring, etc. -- whatever the muse had inspired.

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          It's been awhile since I was on that tour but what I recall (from the guide) is that the warden believed well fed prisoners create fewer problems, not the "so they can't swim" argument.

                          I can believe this concept easily from watching free food being brought into the work place, or to a mutinous film crew working 15 hour days. It's really not unlike the "free lunch" in Silicon Valley, like at Google, although they're also trying to squeeze every minute of productivity from employees as well. Ironic how food is used to keep the natives from being restless in olden times and the modern 21st century.

                          The other stuff I remember from the tour was the population was relatively low and only the worst prisoners. Maybe the whole thing is a wife's tale but keeping people well fed is an easy concept to believe. Many people get ornery and mean simply when hungry. Imagine if some of these people were cold-blooded murderers.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Your recollection makes sense to me when the San Quentin of the 1960s is the focus. A LOT of "social programs" were implemented then.

                            I've been wrestling critical computer problems for over 3 full weeks now, and I'm still not fully "up and running," so my apologies for not taking the time to research things. In the context of it's time of founding, San Quentin was the governments best effort to control otherwise uncontrollable prisoners. It was then considered to be the harshest of the harsh. Originally prisoners weren't allowed to talk except during meals and exercise periods. It was like a prison for monks who had taken vows of silence! Prison overcrowding was not even close to the problem it is today, but it did exist. So in the overall history of San Quentin, it is easy to give a "survey" view that mixes all of the facts into one big bowl of mush. '-)

                            It would be easy to assume San Quentin was one of the Federal Government's early attempts at "more humane" imprisonment. In a twist of fate, it turns out to be true in impact, if not by original intent. During the Great Depression, I think it was "Machine Gun Kelly" (or a prisoner of similar repute) who made the statement that San Quentin was "luxurious" (or words to that effect) because the rule was one prisoner to a cell, which bypassed a LOT Of abuse at the hands of other prisoners. The result was that some prisoners made a concerted effort to be declared "difficult" simply so they would be sent to San Quentin.

                            I suspect that if it were to be accurately researched in historical context, the greatest contributor to the demise of San Quentin was likely the shortages in all types of materials, from steel and concrete (did you know that during WWII, some U.S. Navy vessels were built with reinforced concrete hulls????!!!) to metals for canned goods, not to mention food shortages and the government's big push for every citizen to plant Victory Gardens to alleviate food shortages, that heavily impacted on San Quentin's upkeep during the War Years. The end result was that the "primary" reason offered for closing San Quentin was disrepair and upkeep. (I read that as "Hadn't received much, if any, repair during the war.")

                            I worked in a private psychiatric hospital in the Bay Area during the mid 1960s, and all of our staff did "pro bono" work as consultants to state and Federal facilities (VA hospitals, state mental hospitals, and prisons) in setting up pilot therapeutic programs, and our chief of staff (a Stanford professor of psych in the med school (I THINK Harvey was a professor, but hey, it was a looooong time ago!)) volunteered in a psychiatric counseling program for prisoner's in San Quentin. Things were going extremely well until Governor Reagan made damning (and damnable. imo) budget cuts across the board, but especially in mental health fields. In today's world, they all too often simply pump "difficult" prisoners full of "zombyfying" psychotropic drugs and put them in a stupor. HOPEFULLY not when stumbling around in an overcrowded prison atmosphere where they are accessible to other prisoners!

                            In today's world, as then, sometimes "Budget cuts" are the most lethal cuts of all. <sigh>

                            Anyway, trust me! By 1946 standards, that menu is PRISON FOOD! Baked beans and soup with ketchup as a vegetable! LOL! Sounds like the Federal Government's "School Lunch" program of a few years (decades?) back when ketchup was declared a vegetable! '-)