Nutraloaf? WTF!

Last post, I mentioned the popular internet acronym 'FTW'. Today, I bring you an anagram: 'WTF'. This one should be easy to guess. It stands for, 'What the F---'. Believe me, this post certainly fits the sentiment.

I read online a great deal, and much of my time is spent perusing Reddit is a social news site, where users can post links of interest, and these posts are voted up and down by the Reddit community of users. Almost anything you can imagine can be found on reddit, including pictures of kittens, political opinions, food sculptures made out of bacon, and as I discovered the other day, an abomination called 'Nutraloaf'. In a fascinating article in, food critic Jeff Ruby describes his experience with it.

Nutraloaf is on the menu at a number of U.S. prisons. It has a special status, as the loaf is not served to just anyone, but to misbehaving inmates. That's right, it is served as a punishment. In the old days, prisoners were punished with solitary confinement, but Nutraloaf is apparently more effective as a deterrent in the modern prison industrial complex. According to Jeff, inmates at Cook County prison are known to beg, 'Anything but Nutraloaf!'. Hunger strikes have been waged in protest, and some former inmates are launching lawsuits due to the loaf, stating its use as 'cruel and unusual punishment'. 

So, what could possibly be in this disciplinary loaf that makes it so awful? On the surface, it's ingredients don't seem that bad:

Image courtesy of
2 oz Ground Beef
Browned and drained
4 oz Canned, Chopped Spinach
4 oz Canned Carrots, Diced
4 oz Vegetarian Beans
4 oz Applesauce
1 oz Tomato Paste
1/2 cup Potato Flakes
1 cup Bread Crumbs
2 oz Dry Milk Powder
1 tsp Garlic Powder or Flakes

There is also a vegan version that bumps up the beans in place of the beef. Like any meatloaf, the ingredients are mixed, spread into a pan, and baked. Overall, this seems pretty easy and nutritious - and it is. A person's daily requirement of calories and nutrients are there.  So, what's the problem? The taste. There is none.

This is the engineering brilliance of Nutraloaf - it doesn't taste bad or good. It's designed to be "taste neutral". Like nothing. A flavourless, dense brick of nothing. Yup, that sounds like torture to me. I know it's meant for 'bad prisoners', but there is something dark and Orwellian about serving food that is meant to deny the experience of eating. I can see how it makes a great punishment, but does it cross a line into cruelty? 

In the article, Jeff Ruby describes eating it: "The mushy, disturbingly uniform innards recalled the thick, pulpy aftermath of something you dissected in biology class...I ate two-thirds and gave up, longing for any hint of flavor, even a bad one. That night, my stomach’s rebellion against the loaf was anything but neutral." Delectable. Prison politics aside, what disturbs me more is that some believe this loaf is a great idea for starving populations, or even school cafeterias. I'm reminded of a patent from the early 20th century for a pill that was supposed to provide all the nutrients ever needed, relieving people from the 'chore' of eating. The idea failed miserably, because the inventor overlooked a critical factor - people enjoy eating. It's hard-wired into our brains to make sure we do it. To eat without pleasure, I believe, is to deny our humanity.


  1. That is strange. I would have thought that the apple sauce, tomato paste and garlic powder would have provided at least a modicum of flavor. Plus the fact that it's baked and some caramelisation would occur, which means, more flavour. I'm tempted to try out the recipe just to see for myself.....

  2. I know exactly what you mean! I can't help but think of how you would go about trying to remove flavour from a dish. If you do decide to make this, please share how it tastes! ;-)

  3. Hey Carrie, just wanted to verify something - the recipe states "2 0z Ground Beef". I'm wondering if that's a typo cos 2 oz seems very little compared to the other ingredients and the picture itelf looks like the loaf is mainly meat? Hmm - maybe therein lies the secret of "no flavour" ? ;)

  4. I think you may be right Denise - the recipe I found does state 2 oz - so I'm thinking that this is why it's so terrible. :)

  5. The recipe certainly does not seem as it would produce no flavor, perhaps a bit dull...But I do not eat meat so I find it a bit gross, lol. I am wondering if the potato flakes and milk powder with the small amount of meat could cause this, and canned spinach can be quite bland. Interesting, and I can see Denise's wheels spinning :)


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