The Final Feast: Last Meals on Death Row

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What would you eat if you knew it was your last meal? For some people—death-row inmates facing imminent execution—the question is not a hypothetical one.

In one of the most morbidly fascinating academic studies to cross my desk in a long time, Brian Wansink of Cornell University compiled a catalog of final food requests from 247 Americans who were facing the death penalty. Among his findings, published in the journal Appetite:

“The average last meal is calorically rich (2756 calories) and proportionately averages 2.5 times the daily recommended servings of protein and fat.”

“As far as starches and grains are considered, nearly all requests were for French fries (40.9 percent), other potato sides (20.7 percent) and bread (17.1 percent).” Only three condemned individuals asked for pasta, while another three requested rice. Somewhat surprisingly, only 5.3 percent requested pizza.

Two-thirds of the meals included dessert, and “many people ordered more than one dessert item,” the researchers note. The most popular dessert requests were ice cream (24.3 percent of meals) and pie (23.8 percent), followed by cake (16.1 percent).

That said, the about-to-die diners were not entirely into junk food. While (shockingly) no one requested tofu, “salad was requested 26.9 percent of the time.”

And while 60 percent of inmates requested a sugar-sweetened beverage to accompany their meal, “surprisingly, Diet Coke was requested for three last meals.”