Eastern State Penitentiary is hosting ‘Prison Food Weekend’

eastern state penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary’s Soup Alley. (Credit: Collection of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, gift of the family of Howard H. Haines, Captain of the Guards).

Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary will this summer host “Prison Food Weekend”– and unlike some of the city’s other fine correctional facilities, they’ll be serving more than just cheese sandwiches.

The event slated to be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 8 and 9 will give visitors insight into what prisoners ate at the infamous prison nearly 200 years ago, and how the menu compares to what’s served in jails today.

Attendees will be invited to sample old and new recreated prisoner meals, view sample menus and archival photographs and read reports of prison fare in historic locations across the penitentiary complex.

“The goal is not to produce food that tastes good or bad, but to accurately demonstrate what inmates ate here 150 years ago and what inmates in the U.S. eat today,” Eastern State director of public programming Sean Kelley said in a statement.

Planned dishes from days of yore include the typical 1830s inmate dinner of salted and broiled beef with “Indian mush” and hamburger steak with brown gravy and Harvard beets, which appears on an actual 1949 Eastern State Penitentiary inmate menu.

Compare that to some of the “modern” foodstuff that will be served, like the official Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recipe for Nutraloaf, a “behavior modified meal” served to inmates across the state that event organizers say is the modern version of “bread and water” punishment meals.

The meal samples will be created by Freestyle BBQ, a catering company owned by correctional officer John Freeman.

All of the weekend’s activities are included in standard admission.


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