Food says a lot about you. Are you a chocolate or vanilla person? Coffee or tea? Pizza or wonton soup?
What’s in a last meal?
How many “last” meals did you have before going on a diet or eating at a friend’s house (who is a terrible cook)? What about the last meal of summer or the holidays? Last meals are fun to think about (just one more scoop of ice cream or another slice of pizza). Let’s take a look at last meals for people who really won’t eat again.
Most of us are intrigued by death row inmates’ last meals. A Google search found over 4,330,000 results. There are famous last meals, strange last meals, haunting last meals, and everything in between. The concept captures the morbid imagination of everyone from movie producers to scientists . . . and us.
In early Europe, many believed that executed people returned to haunt those who sent them to the gallows. Food meant making peace. By accepting a last meal, the condemned “forgave” his executioners, ensuring that the soon-to-be ghost was pacified. The better the food, the stronger the deal.
Researchers are often fascinated by the subject. In a study of 247 individuals executed in the United States, Drs. Brian Wansink and Kevin Kniffin concluded that the last meal might be a way for the doomed to make a statement about guilt. People who denied guilt were almost three times more likely to refuse a last meal. Prisoners at peace with their fate asked for thirty-four percent more calories of food – almost three thousand calories. Only twenty percent chose to eat nothing. The researchers concluded that the last meal offers insights into “self-perceived or self-proclaimed innocence.”
Haunted or hungry, guilty or innocent, what does a last meal really mean? Is it a way to make a not-so-subtle statement to the world?
Consider David Leon Woods, who spent twenty-two years on death row. He was executed on May 4, 2007. No one will ever know why he asked for a pizza and birthday cake for his last meal. Any guesses?
In contrast, Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was executed in 2001. His last meal was two pints of chocolate chip mint ice cream.
In 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was executed for the infamous “dragging” murder. For his last meal, Brewer ordered two chicken-fried steaks smothered in gravy and sliced onions, a triple bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a large bowl of fried okra with ketchup, three fajitas, a pizza, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, a pound of barbecued meat, a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and three root beers.
He didn’t eat any of it.
State Senator John Whitmire wrote to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after Brewer’s execution. “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege — one which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim.”
Now the state no longer offers death row inmates a last meal. Maybe that’s why Texas is so haunted?
The weirdest last meal was in 1999. ‘Tiny’ Allen Lee Lewis ordered a lobster tail, fried potatoes, half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clams, half a loaf of garlic bread, and thirty-two ounces of A&W root beer.
Perhaps the strangest was Ricky Ray Rector who ordered steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid, and pecan pie. He ate everything but the pecan pie, declaring that he was “saving it for later.”
Thomas Grasso, in 1990, complained about his last meal. “I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know that.”
The press duly reported his request.