(Photo: Gustavo Alvarez)
In 2009, Gustavo Alvarez (right) was serving time in Chino, California when a horrible race riot broke out. The black and Hispanic inmates were at each other's throats. To make peace, Alvarez said to the other men in his housing unit, "Gather up whatever food you have, and let’s feed these guys." Their hospitality paid off by diminishing some of the tension.
Alvarez was a grill cook in prison. After he got out, he wrote and published a cookbook filled with recipes from prisoners who have to improvise with ingredients and kitchen facilities. It's called Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars.
In a fascinating interview for the food blog First We Feast, Alvarez describes prison food culture:
(Image: Workman Publishing)
OUTSIDE OF THE CAFETERIA, DID THE INMATES EAT TOGETHER?
“Yeah we had ‘spreads,’ which are like prison potlucks. Maybe a group of guys don’t want to go to dinner, so we just want to hang out by the bleachers and watch a baseball or basketball game that’s happening in the yard. One guy is responsible for the canned goods, one for the sodas, one guy brings a side dish or dessert. That’s what we called spreads.”
AFTER JA RULE’S STINT IN PRISON, HE MENTIONED THERE ARE ACTUAL PRISON COOKBOOKS THAT FLOAT AROUND WITH RECIPES RELATED TO DIFFERENT FACILITIES. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT?
“I’m kind of surprised he mentioned that. That’s kind of an in-house thing. That’s something that’s stayed within the prison. There was a couple of guys—especially lifers—that have their collected recipes that they share with people. That’s where I found the idea to make teriyaki sauce out strawberry jam and a little bit of soy sauce. So, yeah, those books are floating around.