Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Eating Local

The Department of Nutrition and Health at the Metropol University College where I am visiting this semester offers an interdisciplinary Master's degree that includes a broad array of courses and education related to food and wellness. One of the courses teaches about food supply systems, where does our food come from and why does it matter? Speaking with the course instructor reignited my confusion about supermarket choices. The cucumbers from Denmark come from just a few miles away and have the very happy Danish flag on them, but may not be as nutritious as the ones from the South of Spain that were flown in on a plane last week and might actually have a larger carbon footprint. Decisions, decisions, complicated by competing priorities.

While vegetable choices can be confusing, my time here in CPH has confirmed that when it comes to baked goods, the local treats rule. I momentarily forgot this rule last week when, in a fit of unexpected nostalgia, I bought a cupcake. Odd because I don't eat a lot of cupcakes at home but I guess it looked too East Haven to resist, plus the shop bore my younger sister's name. I bought it on auto-pilot.

Well, let me tell you, that was one bad cupcake. Freezing cold. Thick hard icing like a chunk of sweet butter on top. But what did I expect? What do Danes know about cupcakes? The smarter choice is the very delicious, very local, chokorung (pictured above). It looks like a giant rabbit turd but is actually a tasty chocolate delight. A sweet rye bread roll with chocolate chunks covered in nuts, it's moist and chewy and is sold very cheaply from large baskets next to the cash register. It is the obvious choice when you walk into the bakery and you will not be disappointed.

Travelling through a variety of Danish prison spaces during the last month, these food supply debates fade in and out of my thoughts. Correctional policy here is so brave and innovative, investing in rehabilitation and informed by rational thought rather than fear and revenge. It really looks good when you see it here, laid out on the streets of Copenhagen and in the back country of Central Jutland. But what would happen if I were to return to US and try to cook up the same scheme in Connecticut? Would it work as well or would it be like the cold cupcake - a cultural artifact from another place that fails to recreate the taste and texture of the original? Given our national palate, is it possible to change the ingredients of incarceration, a US concoction for which the politicians and citizens alike have shown such an enormous appetite?

Who knows? Thirty years ago, no one could have predicted that my father would be eating cold quinoa salad for dinner. I'll bring a few chokorungs in my suitcase when I come home next month and see if there aren't a few daring souls willing to try a bite.