Eating behind bars

Some people have limited choice when it comes to where and what they eat. The request by the Belgian authorities to the Spanish government regarding what sort of treatment the Catalan rebels could expect to receive should they be extradited to, and detained in, Spain, lifted the curtain slightly on culinary aspects of the prison regime.

Apparently the food is not too bad, surprising perhaps when the budget per prisoner is 3.66 euros daily to cover everything. In nearly all the prisons the inmates are responsible for the preparation, cooking and serving of meals, although in some exceptional cases outside caterers are employed.

There has never been any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the prisoners to learn cooking, and in another famous ongoing prosecution, the Gürtel case, the principal defendant, Francisco Correa, asked for his appearance in a court hearing to be got through as quickly as possible so he wouldn't miss too much of the cooking class he had signed up to at Picassent jail.

In some Spanish penitentiaries the regime includes producing fruit and vegetables on prison land and in some cases caring for farm animals. In Britain they have gone a step further and opened restaurants accessible to the public.

Brixton jail's restaurant 'The Clink' is run entirely by convicts, many of whom have learnt their skills in prison. Not all though. Previous to the ban on asking the prisoners why they were locked up, one of them had answered a questioner that he was a professional chef, and was serving time for having killed his sous-chef in the kitchen of his restaurant.

In America the best-known prison restaurant is possibly the Serving Time Café in Utah, unique until recently for being staffed by female time-servers. Unusually for a fast-food eating-place, the clientele is mostly male and seems in no hurry to leave.