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Hidden Food: Mealtime Resistance and Identity Work in a Norwegian Prison

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 13 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2011 Pages: 47-63
Thomas Ugelvik
Date Published
January 2011
17 pages
This article explores prison food and prisoner identity work.
How can prisoners' blatant aversion for the official prison food be understood? And what can we make of the various covert practices of illegal or semi-legal alternative food making that goes on behind closed cell doors? Are prisoners picky and difficult people, or is the food truly as horrible as they claim? Or could this best be understood on levels other than that of individual taste? The article will argue that prisoners experience the official prison food as a continuation of the more general attacks on their identity that imprisonment entails, denying them status as a person with competence and agency and forcefully removing them from family, friends and positioning them on the margins of the larger community outside. The daily meals thus serve as painful bodily manifestations of the power the institution holds over the individual. As Foucault reminds us, however, power may be conceptualized as a fluctuating relationship of forces, not a property of powerful groups or individuals. In such a perspective, the prison food also works as arena for prisoner identity work through practices of hidden resistance. (Published Abstract)