Last orders - death row menu requests
September 27th, 2010
04:00 PM ET
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Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating, and the food culture they encounter as they travel the globe. Today's contributor, photojournalist Jeremy Harlan is based in Washington D.C., but he travels. A lot.

Pictured above: death row inmate Hank Skinner

If we’re going to have this discussion, I have to start with Memphis-style ribs. I’d move onto a heaping amount of moist Texas beef brisket. Grilled asparagus. One In-n-Out 3×3 burger with fries, animal-style. A 12-oz dry-aged ribeye medium-rare. Wait, make it rare. What the heck. Wash it down with a cherry lambic and finish it off with peach cobbler and one piece of chocolate cream pie. Did I say one piece? Better make it two.

Over the past year, I’ve covered two executions in Virginia and have interviewed a death row inmate in Texas. At each of those events, one subject that always draws a lot of interest is the last meal request. Next to what a prisoner’s last words were, the most popular inquiry by reporters always seems to be what the person ate before death.

Last November was my first trip to Jarratt, Virginia to cover an execution at the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Greenville Correctional Center. The night of November 10, 2009 was to be the last for John Allen Muhammad, also known as the D.C. sniper. His last meal of choice? Officials told the media that Muhammad didn't want the outside world to know. Fortunately for us, one of his lawyers accidentally spilled the beans and announced that his client had requested chicken with red sauce, and small cakes for dessert.

My reaction: that’s it?! Of all the things you could have, you just wanted chicken and cake? But as I later came to find out, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the menu options aren’t limitless.

As Larry Traylor, the Director of Communications for the Virginia Department of Corrections, explained, "For the last meal, the inmate may select any meal, or combination of items, from the institution’s 28-day cycle menu. The meal must be completed no later than four hours prior to the execution."

I’m sure the cooking staff does a fine job in making the meal, but I’d want a little bit bigger selection for my last eats on earth. Then again, if I’m on death row, do I really deserve to have whatever I want?

In Texas, prisoners get far more leeway in choosing their last meals. “I had three pieces of Popeye’s fried chicken, two catfish filets, a bowl of green onions, a bowl of tartar sauce, a bowl of homemade ranch dressing, a bowl of shredded cheese, a bowl of crumbled eggs, two double bacon cheeseburgers, a large order of fries, and a chocolate milkshake,” boasted Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner a month ago.

I know, I know. What’s crazier about that last paragraph - the half-grocery store that Skinner ingested for his last meal, or the fact he can still talk about it?

Skinner was set to die by lethal injection last March for the murders of his then-girlfriend and her two sons. Less than an hour before he was to enter the death chamber, the United States Supreme Court stayed his execution and agreed to hear his suit against the local Texas prosecutor, whom he has sued for violating his civil rights and failing to turn over DNA evidence. But let’s get back to what he ate.

“The guys over here [on Texas death row] make [the meal] out 14 days before our date. When guys are making it out over here, they’ve got real big eyes, they want this, they want that. None of them ever eat it all,” says Skinner.

But, for his own part, Skinner was determined to leave no bowl of cheese or green onion behind. He told us that he made it all the way to the last half of the second cheeseburger before stopping. I guess when you're about to die, you don’t worry about the digestive repercussions of such a huge meal.

Last week I found myself back in Jarratt for the execution of Teresa Lewis, the first woman put to death in Virginia in nearly one hundred years. Unlike her counterpart in the Lone Star state, Lewis kept it simple: two fried chicken breasts, peas with butter, apple pie or German cake, and a Dr. Pepper.

All of this got me to thinking - what on earth would I want to eat for a last meal? Granted, I don’t ever want to find myself on death row scribbling down a menu of my last grub. But if I were given a chance to plan it, where would I start?

Barbeque would be the first and the last word on the menu. And it has to be Texas-style barbecue. I love you, Carolinas, but my culinary heart belongs to brisket. And the brisket I really want is the moist version from Rudy’s Country Store. My grandma’s snickerdoodle cookies would be a must. Mom’s fried chicken, Matty’s prime rib, Emily’s chocolate chip cookies, artichokes with mayonnaise, ripe California avocados, El Pollo Rico rotisserie chicken….aargh, so many choices to make.

My wife’s list is pretty simple: my Caprese salad, my guacamole, my homemade applesauce, and a triple-scoop of gelato from her favorite shop in Rome, Giolitti.

It's a simple question but harder to answer than you'd think: what would you want on your last dinner plate?

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Filed under: Cuisines • Favorites • Food in the Field • Obsessions • Prison • Rituals

soundoff (550 Responses)
  1. Julia

    I think I would request – A fair amount of Sushi with lots of wasabi on the side, sweet potato fries, steamers, a bunch of very ripe tomatoes, cheesecake with nutella frosted over it and pecan pie and to drink I'd want vodka, pom wonderful juice and barqs rootbeer.

    August 10, 2013 at 5:37 am |
  2. Suzyq1975

    Last meal? Hmmmm.....I'd want Campbells Tomato Soup, two grilled cheese sammiches, jar of dill pickle spears, a brownie with vanilla ice cream, a pepsi and a tall glass of sweet tea!!

    November 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Etta Cornbread

      Sounds wonderful to me also. This is exactly one of my favorite meals. : )

      November 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      I'm going to go buy pickles now.

      November 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  3. Noxious Sunshine

    My Dad's spaghetti, my mom's steak, scalloped potatoes, fried chicken, macaroni & tomatoes, her homemade fudge, & her veggie beef soup, my fiancee's marinated mexican beef ribs w nopales (grilled cactus), al pastor & abogado (specially marinated pork & chicken) all with El Milagrro tortillas, & sushi.. super Small portions of everything of course so that I can finish it.. A blunt (i dont.even smoke lol) and a few good swigs of Remy Martin or 100 anos tequila reposado.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  4. Tracey Ratchford

    like a couple of you have stated the meal we just ate at lunch could be are last..with that being said the last meal has been practiced by the Romans,Greeks and Chinese. Basically the last meal is a social act and accepting the meal the condemned was believed to forgive the executioner,judge and witnesses. The last meal is like accepting their punishment.

    September 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  5. Mr B

    I would have 50 white Castle Hamburgers; The stench of those in my dead body would insure I was not soon forgotten!

    May 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  6. jeff smith

    I wish osama bin laden could have gotten life in supermax prison and been fed nothing but rice forever!

    May 20, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  7. Sherri Irvin

    Stale cornbread and icy cold buttermilk with a crisp Vidalia onion and some salt to dip it into.

    December 21, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  8. ER

    I don't think these guys deserve a last meal. But, since they are asking.. here's what I'd want. Prime rib, mashed poatoes and gravy, and a loaded baked potato too – what the heck!, frozen corn, & chocolate ecstacy for dessert.

    November 18, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  9. DoucheCanoe

    If I'm going to die via the electric chair, I think my last meal request would have to be a mega helping of beans washed down with a gallon of salt water. That way when they turn on the juice, kapow!

    November 9, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  10. Mike

    I would eat two dozen pickled eggs and a six-pack of near-beer.
    I'd turn that whole prison wing into a gas chamber.

    October 9, 2010 at 6:49 am |
  11. Don Stack

    t's a simple question but harder to answer than you'd think: what would you want on your last dinner plate?

    Starters,,,,, fried calamari, bbq baby back ribs, garlic bread
    Soup,,,,,,,,,french onion soup
    Salad,,,,,,,,hearty wedge of iceberg lettuce with Russian dressing with croutons and parmesian cheese

    a lemon sorbet to cleanse the palet

    Main course,,,,,,36 oz,,King cut medium rare prime rib on the bone with buttered mushrooms and au jus, idaho baked potato, green beans with spaetzle, corn and shrimp scampi side.

    Dessert ohhhhhhhhh this is hard..... blue bunny vanilla ice cream on a ny cheesecake with whipped cream

    October 9, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  12. RayBordier

    I like German Apple cake. It's really good.

    October 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  13. mnscubadiver

    If they get a last meal, then get a stay, then get another date for execution, do they get another last meal?

    September 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  14. The Obvious

    One pressing question here: Why does one on scheduled to die need a "last meal"? If you think about it, we ingest food to survive, not to die. Why do we feed prisoners that are going to be executed? Should we stop feeding prisoners that are scheduled to live?

    September 30, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  15. Truth

    Is it my imagination, or is there no moderator today and the inmates are running this asylum???

    September 29, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Evil Grin

      Quiet! We're about to bust out of here. Now where did I put that nail file?

      September 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  16. Evil Grin

    Morbid? Yes, but you have to admit, we've all thought about it at some point. It's hard not to.

    Personally, if I'd done something so heinous that I deserved the death penalty (or was convicted falsely), I'm not sure I could eat anything. But if I could, I think I would go for a steak, a side of rice, some fresh green beans or spinach, fresh homemade bread and butter, and some ice cream for dessert. That's what I say today, because that's what I'd want at the moment. The one thing I do know is that my request would change from day to day. Tomorrow I might be craving chinese take-out, monday I might crave seafood. It all depends.

    September 29, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  17. Dan

    Leave it to the Obama administration to give these merciless killers whatever they want for a last meal. Why don't we just fly them all to Kenya to live with your criminal family, Obama? Maybe they could be cross trained as terrorists. Get this joker out of office, vote Palin '10!!!!!!

    September 29, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • Josh

      You are a complete idiot. Always have to bring Obama into issues which don't even relate to the executive branch. You do realize that it is up to state officials to determine the stipulations that surround a prisoners last meal, Right? I mean, even if Obama wanted to put a stop to last meals he wouldn't be able to. It is a conflict of separation of powers. Maybe you should do some research before you post idiotic and hateful statements. You and your tea party buddies should go down to texas and start your own country because you are all a bunch of conservative whackos. If Palin was president we wouldn't be any better off than North Korea. Maybe you want to live in an oppressive totalitarian state, but I sure don't.

      September 29, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Josh

      Oh, and you realize that Obama isn't up for re-election until 2012 right? So Palin '10 makes absolutely no sense unless she is running for Congress.

      September 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Tracey Ratchford

      now what does Obama have to do with the last meal???? He dont have anything to do with what each state does with their deathrow immates last meal!!! get a grip!!

      September 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • H Graham

      Why would we want to put in a person who quit under pressure, to be the president??? God that makes no sense...well about as much sense as any of her stupid comments. Palin my ass..good grief what next.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  18. BrotherBob

    All 24 flavors of Pop tarts and a bowl of Peanut Butter Capt. Crunch!!!! Oh yes and dont forget the 2 gallons of milk!

    September 29, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  19. BrotherBob

    All 24 flavors of Poptarts and a bowl of Peanut Butter Capt. Crunch!!!! Oh yes and dont forget the 2 gallons of milk!

    September 29, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  20. Jorge

    Seeing as the only way I could end up on death row on my own means would be by preventing or avenging a catastrophically gross injustice on a member of my family, it wouldn't really matter what my last meal was, as I would probably spend my last moments SAVORING MY TOTAL LACK OF REGRET.

    September 29, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  21. ScrappyDoo

    Roadkill possum with a side of "cocka-roacha-crema" and maybe some sort of endangered species.

    September 29, 2010 at 7:08 am |
  22. Valley of the Sun

    Turkey and Dressing, Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens, fluffy white biscuits; and for dessert, Tiramisu from Babbo in Surprise, AZ and Dark Chocolate Mousse from Gumbo's in Austin, Texas. Washed down with plenty of strong coffee. Yep. Kill me now.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  23. omar q

    what is the matter with these fat ass ppl. steak. no one cares, go eat somthing healthy. no wonder u guys are fat. u dont need to diet, just dont eat anything bad. fatass obese bitches tat eat all the food while ppl are dieing from starvation.

    September 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  24. brian

    a huge bowl of all bran moistened with a copious amount of milk of magnesia, two packages of chocolate exlax washed down with a quart of chilled prune juice with extra pulp. If the state is going to take me out, they'll have a mess to clean up!

    September 28, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  25. Dee

    Well, at least you wouldn't have to worry about eating healthy.

    September 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  26. wil

    Hmmmmmmm, last meal? A loaf of hard crust french bread and a bottle of vino, with my pastor and close friends to be with me for my last supper.

    September 28, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  27. parkcitybrian

    cannot believe that cnn would stoop to this level of "reporting"...well, i sorta/kinda can believe it cuz is wonder their ratings r in the total crapper. larry king? is he still alive? i know he salivates whenever a celeb him the oppty to lob a few more softballs.

    September 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  28. wasted time...

    this started out as a fairly interesting thread... but has digressed into junior high homophobic antics.

    I, of course.... would also have the Flamenon... very rare

    September 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Dan

      Do you mean "Filet Mignon"? Typical liberal, can't even spell. Vote Palin '10

      September 29, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Sue

      You can spell homophobic, but not Filet Mignon? Seriously?

      September 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  29. meryl

    my last meal would consist of hot hallah bread, followed by a salad, then a huge steak with a baked potatoe, lobster tails and for dessert chocolatecake with vanilla ice cream

    September 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  30. BoredinIraq

    I spelt dessert wrong. Doooh!

    September 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  31. U. N. Owen

    Would love to go all Hannibal Lecter and have a Vegan and a PETA supporter...

    September 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  32. Amber

    Hmmm...something rare and endangered and possibly poisonous (I mean, really, what's the harm, right?). Maybe a fugu appetizer with bald eagle soup, a white tiger steak infused with wormwood extract and dressed with nightshade berries finished with a cup of warm hemlock (like Socrates :) poured over squid ink ice cream.

    September 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  33. RareFlamenon

    My last meal would be kill a guard that come to ask me what I want on my last meal. So I can live on with trials and appeals...Hahaha...Kill and kill more. I'm on death row anyway. So why care so much about my last meal. The justice system is so pathetic. If a person is proved beyond any doubt, take him out back or parade him out on the busiest street and shoot him.

    September 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  34. Stu Padasso

    While they are on death row, find out what food they don't like, then give that to them as a last meal.

    September 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  35. Roseanne

    O_O' I think the last couple of emails are one person... that or a duo of people who have no life.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  36. Roseanne

    :) I want a rack of ribs, one side smothered in a spicy sauce and the other dry rubbed. Creamy mac n' cheese, a bowl of french onion soup with the cheese a gooey mess. Deep fried chicken breast – xtra crispy – and for desert... well If I'm gonna die I want deep fried oreo cookies with a huge jug of milk straight from the cow.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  37. Dad

    I wouldn't care what it was as long as I could eat it with my kids.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  38. eatme

    a recent poll places Flamenons at 99% and T.M.F. at 1% in popularity! I'm guessing he voted for himself.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  39. eatme

    Man if eating feces is a real turn on for you, you will have no problem fitting in with the prison pretty boys. In fact you might even be voted most popular new inmate you are one sick human!

    September 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  40. Sarah

    FLAMENONS! FLAMENONS! FLAMENONS! YESSS! This whole article was worth reading just for FLAMENONS! hahaahahahaha

    September 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  41. William

    What is wrong with some of you?

    September 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  42. William

    If I had to make the choice it would be a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year.

    September 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  43. eatme

    I'm sure glad I'm free and can do my wife anytime, and not worry about being raped by one of those prison love staved losers. Freedom is a privilege us law abiding citizens enjoy!

    September 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
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