Table for Two at the County Jail
by Sara Tucker
You know the prison-garden movement, the one proposed in this column several weeks ago ("The Angola Prison Rodeo and Locavore Grub Fest"), the idea being to use our vast prison system to grow healthy organic food, thus promoting agricultural sustainability and food security in our present time of crisis? Turns out there already is a prison-garden movement. Why, just last month, prison inmates in Sandusky County, Ohio, planted their first crop of vegetables as a cost-cutting measure after Sheriff Kyle Overmyer banned pancakes from the prison menu in response to a $75,000 budget cut ("Kale at the Jail," KansasCity.com). Similar gardens have sprung up this year in corrections facilities around the country, including Adams County, Pennsylvania (Corrections Reporter), and San Quentin, California (San Francisco Magazine). Some are donating extra produce to food banks. Sadly, however, many are hiding their light under a bushel basket. So here's a new proposal: prison restaurants. Prisoners grow, prepare, and serve the food to paying guests--obvious, right? So obvious, in fact, that it's already been tested in other parts of the world.
"In a cavernous space filled with simple wooden tables and benches, guards stand watch as sommelier Santolo, who's serving 24 years for murder, pours Chianti," reported Budget Travel in 2007, soon after inmates at a maximum-security prison outside Pisa began serving haute cuisine to the public. "The restaurant has proved so popular that Italy's prison department is thinking of trying it in other jails," reported the Telegraph. Italy's experiment inspired The Clink, a farm-to-table venture hailed by the Sutton Guardian as "the first commercial eaterie to open behind bars in Britain." Security is a bit of a hassle ("All guests must hand in cell phones and any potential weapons and be scanned by a metal detector," warns Associated Content), and the steak knives are plastic, but the Cordon Bleu restaurant received high marks in its first review (see the Telegraph) as a "professional, gutsy operation" of "incredible value." The rhubarb crumble is highly recommended.