The Last Meal

There is a really interesting website called the Last Meals Project.  It documents the last meals of inmates on death row as a statement on the death penalty.  The profiles contained on the site include a variety of celebrity criminals, such as Timothy McVeigh and Ted Bundy.  It shows pictures of the condemned, as well as of their last meal foods.

The site points out that the last meals of prisoners on death row become a matter of public record.  The whole concept, according to Brent Cunningham, is either perverse or compassionate, for, as its last act, the state offers the incarcerated the substance of life.  Also, the connection between food and death is extensive, in a variety of cross-cultural rituals, from Huron farewell feasts to Chinese rituals of feeding the dead, so the last meal also serves as a consolidation of this connection.

Brent Cunningham also points out that the American public is almost entirely removed from the execution process.  This raises the question of whether or not the last meal is still a ritualized step offered before execution or whether the last meal’s relevance has declined.  According to Daniel LaChance, the last meal remains an important ritual because it offers an emotional component to an otherwise sterile execution process and restores a degree of humanity to the condemned.  On the other hand, even though last meals are a matter of public record, they are not a terribly well publicized phenomenon.  The last meal project site is attempting to change this.

The irony of the process is that prisoners often do not get what they ask for for their last meals.  Thus, the last meal ritual remains in use because what is considered important  is the request that is broadcast to the public.  Society can see that prisoners are treated with a degree of compassion, if they are given a special last meal before their execution.  So, considering this phenomenon, we have to ask, is justice served?

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