“Not for Human Consumption.” The author, who saw that label himself when he was incarcerated, calls out a widespread human rights violation being committed in U.S. prisons.  

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

We’ve all been reading about inflation over the past several months.  Food prices are up dramatically this year, and it’s putting the squeeze on a lot of American families.  Many people are cutting back, eating less meat, and trying to conserve.  But what happens when you’re in prison when food prices are spiking?

On my first day in prison in 2013, one of the other inmates said to me, “It’s Friday.  Fish day.”  I responded, “Oh.  Ok.  I like fish.”  “Not this fish,” he said.  “We call it sewer trout.  Stay away from it.”  When I got to the cafeteria, I saw boxes stacked up behind the serving line.  They were all clearly marked: “Alaskan Cod. Product of China.  Not for Human Consumption.  Feed Use Only.”  I never ate the fish.

There are two ways that prisons are able to save money.  They cut food costs and they cut medication costs.  In many prisons and jails at the state and local level, any budget surplus goes into the warden’s or sheriff’s pocket. 

Check out this article, which documents how an Alabama sheriff legally took home as personal profit more than $750,000 that had been budgeted to feed prisoners and used it to pay cash for a beach house.  The prisoners ended up eating scraps not meant for human beings. 

Saving Money

Arizona State Prison Complex -Lewis. (Prison Insight, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

It’s not at all unusual to feed prisoners animal-grade food to save money.  It happens all across the country every single day.

In one Arizona women’s prison, current and former prisoners complained that they saw the “Not for Human Consumption” label on boxes of chicken legs and thighs and on lunch meat. 

One former prisoner, who spent 12 years in the facility, said that she asked multiple times why animal-grade food was being served to prisoners, but she “never got a straight answer.”  Eventually, the prison stopped serving the chicken — the lunch meat is still being served — but not until enough prisoners complained about it.  The food service company, Trinity Services Group, also served prisoners maggot-infested food and “potatoes laced with crunchy dirt.”  Trinity was also accused of serving prisoners rotten meat that caused dozens of H. pylori infections.  Trinity’s response?  “That happened in the past.”

To give you an idea of how seriously, or not, “corrections professionals” take the allegations, one must only look at what they say to each other when they think nobody else can hear them.  The Phoenix New Times reported that a private Facebook group of Arizona prison guards mocked the animal-grade food and the prisoners who had to eat it.  One guard wrote, “That was true haha working in the kitchen I read it.”  Another said, “As a kitchen officer, I plead the fifth.”  Still another wrote, “This isn’t news lol.”

‘It’s All Bad’

One Minnesota prisoner said that he tells new prisoners upon arrival, “Don’t eat no chili, no burritos, no types of sausage or the sausage gravy, no meatloaf, or no Salisbury steak.  It’s all bad.  It’s all made from that meat marked ‘Not for Human Consumption.’”

Aramark, the big food service company, says that it is dedicated to “culinary excellence” in prisons.  But after winning a contract to provide food in the Colorado prison system, their quest for culinary excellence didn’t stop them from serving prisoners “rotten food crawling with maggots or food that had been thrown in the trash, and (Aramark) gave inmates cake that had been partially eaten by rodents.”  The same thing happened at prisons Aramark supplied in Mississippi, in Oregon, Alabama and elsewhere.

Activists in the Philadelphia area protesting against any further contracts with companies “that profit from mass incarceration,” Aug. 7, 2021. (Joe Piette, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If these details don’t make you angry, maybe this will:  According to a lawsuit filed against Oregon prison officials, prison administrators — in anticipation of state health inspections — directed inmates to clean up kitchens and remove “not for human consumption” food and to move green and moldy, spoiled food to the a mobile refrigerator and freezer trucks, only to return the spoiled food to the kitchen after the inspection was completed.  One of the prisoners filing the suit said she was ordered to serve “not for human consumption bait fish and spoiled meats, milk and produce” to fellow inmates.

The fix here is easy:  STOP DOING IT.  Where is the humanity?  I understand that when you run a prison, you want to balance a budget.  But the budget can’t be balanced while ignoring basic human rights.  I have no idea if it’s even illegal to serve people animal-grade food.  It wouldn’t even occur to me that such a thing would need to be legislated.  But if it is legal, it needs to be made illegal.  And people who do it should be prosecuted.  Maybe one of the reasons that we have some of the societal problems that we do is that we don’t treat the less fortunate among us with respect and dignity.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

25 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Prison Food

  1. doris
    April 23, 2022 at 10:56

    Recidivism is one of the natural goals of a capitalist prison system. The less the prison industry spends on basic human needs, the more profit it makes. The less it spends on rehabilitation, the more profits it makes. The more laws it lobbies Congress to make ridiculous laws, (like the drug war on Americans), the more profits it makes. It’s an obvious conflict of interest, but that’s what capitalism is all about. Profit over people. Lots of dollars, but no sense. If profit were taken out of the equation, it would be in the public interest to reduce recidivism, as well as reduce the reason people go to prison in the first place by creating more functional food, healthcare, and educational systems, but since America is ALL about profit over everything and everybody, I figure that’ll happen right about the time pigs fly.

    “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” – The Christian God.
    It’s astounding how the majority, (not all), of American Christians believe in the punitive, abusive method of “corrections” instead of their Savior’s message of love and forgiveness. But then again, the KKK claims to be a “Christian” organization, doesn’t it?! Go figure! Jesus forgave the woman at the well, and even his own murderers as He died on the cross. The only people He got angry enough at to kick out of His Father’s church with a cat-of-nine-tails were the capitalists (money-changers).

    • Jen
      April 26, 2022 at 05:04

      Grocery stores throw out tons of food per year. They donate to Christian charities and they could easily donate to prisons. The prison industry would not have to spend as much on food if grocery stores would only cooperate! Even high-priced health food stores throw out tons of food.

      I believe in the Savior’s message of love and forgiveness. I am a repeated sinner at my church. I often say the wrong things and don’t realize it until later. I wish the Lord could make me a better communicator. If I had a genie in a magic bottle, I would wish for that and to be seen as an angel in the eyes of my Savior. I would be happy with those things. I don’t need a third wish.

  2. Eddy
    April 22, 2022 at 03:49

    W.T.F. is it with Americans ? Prisons have free labor at hand, they have heaps of space available too. So why can’t prisons grow their own food ? Prisoners can learn a trade and how to be useful, excess products grown can be on sold to local populations, so the prison management can still make a profit. Where I live, we have such a prison farm, and the inmates grow everything they eat, including the meat from cows and sheep which also provide dairy products and wool. It is indeed, a very sorry state of affairs, when prison management are unable to captialise on the free labor resources at their finger tips.

    • Lena
      April 22, 2022 at 07:11

      I suspect the more “efficient” use for that free labor is to make them do other things. Growing small amount of food requires quite a bit of time. It’s the capitalist efficiency following it’s logic…

    • doris
      April 23, 2022 at 01:38

      For one thing, growing food and raising animals bring out one’s humanity, which lowers the recidivism rate, which is bad for the business model of filling as many cells as possible to keep those prison industry profits up. America doesn’t give a rat’s ass about its citizens, those in or out of prisons., The American people are programed to believe inmates deserve maggots in their inedible food. Jokes about anal rape are common. This is an incredibly callous nation and getting worse by the week.

  3. Jennifer Allison
    April 21, 2022 at 23:53

    What about prisoners with urgent, ongoing medical conditions like diabetes? Are they denied the medical treatment they need?

  4. Realist
    April 21, 2022 at 23:29

    Sounds like you were housed with the wrong “Good fellas.” They ate gourmet food every night, according to Martin Scorsese’s script and direction.

    Seriously, this is not just a wee morsel of harmless graft and corruption by undercompensated public servants, it is life-threatening sadistic psychopathy.

    The whole criminal justice system in America and around the globe violates human rights routinely: no one is ever sentenced by a judge or jury to be raped, infected with a venereal disease, catch life-threatening pathogens or, just in general, have their health destroyed and life shortened, from a purposely noxious environment or dangerously psychotic inmates or guards.

    • Lena
      April 22, 2022 at 07:16

      You’re so right…
      It’s cynical especially with respect to the fact that people who are in prisons are, in general, not the ones who ought to be punished.
      While whistelblowers and weed smokers and out-of-desparations-thieves get incarcerated, the real thugs go unpunished and are rewarded by the psychopatic capitalist society.

  5. Bob M
    April 21, 2022 at 23:29

    Not shocked in the slightest by this. In our bizarrely individualistic culture that believes 100% in free will and denies cause and effect, anyone who breaks the rules and ends up in prison is dehumanized and felt to be deserving of nothing but contempt and mistreatment. Hence: criminally bad food, criminally bad health care, criminally insane applications of solitary confinement, rampant rapes and assaults by guards and on and on. Our society is deeply sick to its core.

  6. April 21, 2022 at 21:25

    A whole new angle on our depravity, The bigger picture is where we need to revolutionize our justice system to be like Norway’s where the recidivism rate is about 20% and ours is over 70%. It’s a difference between cruelty that hardens criminals and kindness that transforms them. The punishment is being locked up and in a workable world that’s enough. Read about it here: hxxps://

  7. Lois Gagnon
    April 21, 2022 at 20:56

    Barbarism is alive and well in the US. Human rights do not exist for the least politically connected. The US is in dire need of regime change.

  8. Wilikins
    April 21, 2022 at 20:47

    Americans believe abuse is justice. The incarcerated deserve rotten and degraded foods because they have broken the law. Recidivism is the result.

  9. April 21, 2022 at 19:28

    Mr. Kiriakou:

    You state that “The fix here is easy: STOP DOING IT. Where is the humanity? I understand that when you run a prison, you want to balance a budget. But the budget can’t be balanced while ignoring basic human rights. I have no idea if it’s even illegal to serve people animal-grade food.”

    First of all, thank you for continuing to address the travesty in The American Prison Industrial Complex and The American Carceral State. The well known author and Pastor Chris Hedges (author of: “The Shame of America’s Gulag” and the video “Trauma & Transformation in an American Prison, Part 1”) has also spoken out against the persistent cruelty in these systems, as have African-American Activists Professor Angela Davis and Law Professor Michelle Alexander (author of: “The New Jim Crow”).

    Unfortunately, you don’t address one of the key reasons behind why American Jails and Prisons LACK THE NECESSARY MONEY to Provide Prisoners Decent Food and Housing. That one key reason is the Powerful and Influential Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers’ Labor Unions who wield much Power and Influence in terms of how much Cops (i.e., Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers) get Paid, other benefits such as Health Insurance, Pension Benefits, special Housing Loans and Rates, Mandatory Yearly Pay Raise Clauses written into the Collective Bargaining Contracts, etc.

    Thus, a Significant Part of the Yearly Money allocated for American Jails and Prisons HAS TO BE SPENT on Expenses directly dealing with Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers, and what budgetary amount that is left to feed and house Jail Inmates and Federal & State Prisoners, IS INADEQUATE to provide the inmates with a decent food and housing.
    Umesh Heendeniya
    Hernando County, Florida.

    • Lena
      April 22, 2022 at 07:25

      Well, it’s not the unions that are the problem. Don’t try to distract us from the core problem…

      The problem is that prisons in the US are private.
      When I first heard of that, I went: “Huh?”.

      If a prison is a private company, then it needs to yield as much profit as possible, right? It’s not like they’ll run out of business if they make the food better. On the contrary – abuse implies recedency implies people come back.

      How perverted and psychopatic is that?

    • John Kiriakou
      April 23, 2022 at 07:48

      Umesh, You make a very important point here. Even after spending 20 years in government and after joining government from the labor movement, I was shocked at the power of the Corrections Officers’ union. The prison administrators knelt before them on a whole host of issues.

  10. Sara Olson
    April 21, 2022 at 18:39

    I agree with Mr. Kiriakou. I served seven years in a California women’s prison. Every year, the quality of the food declined. I considered it, frankly, inedible in my last year but I kept telling myself, I could stand to lose weight. I was released in 2009. I can only imagine (but I won’t) how bad the food is now. I correspond with people who are still locked up. I hate to ask them about the food because I don’t want them to have to tell me how horrible the so-called food they are being served, during a pandemic, is and force them to contemplate how anti-human their circumstances are. They know. Staff and, of course, custody have to dehumanize us to do what they do every day but, somehow, I have no sympathy for them.

  11. PETER
    April 21, 2022 at 18:38

    Where are the truly righteous, loving, God fearing Americans? Why are they not speaking out on this subject? Assange is prisoned for telling the truth about America’s war crimes, so perhaps these Americans are in fear of the same punishment for telling the truth. Think about it all who know that at their time they will have to stand before our final judge. Will it be an eternity in the loving arms of the Saviour of the world? Or will it be? Ask while you have time, seek seek while you still have time, knock, because He is waiting to openfor you. Your Saviour is waiting, but not forever.

    • doris
      April 23, 2022 at 01:50

      Sorry Peter, but most “Christians” have a punitive mindset that started the whole system of abuse in the name of righteousness. The “spare the rod” mentality has them believing that kids should be hit in order to keep them on the straight and narrow path to God. It’s just a continuance of that mindset. It’s like they never learned that their Jesus was actually the Lord of Love/Prince of Peace. They never learned that the “rod” in question was actually a shepherd’s rod, used to guide the sheep, not beat them.

    • Jenny
      April 26, 2022 at 05:52

      Isn’t it amazing that you can go to prison for life for stealing a pizza too many times, but if you are a politician who sends other people’s Christian children to war, you’ll never spend one day in there? Ridiculous! Assange is in prison as well, while the real criminals remain free.

      I received the blessings of my Savior. I will carry them with me for the rest of my time on this earth. He is in my heart always but I find him only in the Church. I do not know where else to seek him. Please help me, Peter. I hope it is not too late!

  12. Paula
    April 21, 2022 at 18:28

    I can attest to this story. When I was in jail, not ever for very long, I just refused to eat. A deputy threatened to put a tube down my throat. It was just gross food. I couldn’t eat it. This was in Kittitas County, WA.

  13. roxan
    April 21, 2022 at 17:34

    I used to work in state hospitals back in the 1990s. In NJ, all state institutions, both prisons and hospitals, had the same food. If it was Wednesday, for instance, everyone from Trenton to Cape May had the same meal. I tried the soup, once, and had to spit it out. A lot of patients lived on snacks from the machines or items staff brought in. One time, I was in the cafeteria between meals, and saw an official looking lady tasting each of the giant pots of food. Wondering who she was, I said, “it’s bad, eh?” To my shock, she said, “It’s great! They followed the recipes perfectly. I love the food, here!” Then she told me that was her job–going from institution to institution, sampling food to make sure they followed the recipes, and she loved her job. I just could not believe my ears!

  14. April 21, 2022 at 17:18

    That is an appalling story and I can’t help but wonder how many people have become ill as a result of eating rotten food and food that isn’t fit for human consumption. Thank you John for your continued push to make our prison system more humane.
    I found it interesting that even a liberal state like Oregon has corruption problems, I live in AZ and am not surprised that our criminal system is terrible. but I guess it doesn’t matter if the state is essentially liberal or right wing, the corruption and the purposefully punishing and dehumanizing laws and policing in our justice system seem to require people without any soul or humanity. I t doesn’t have to; I recall thinking how nice the guards and other personnel were in Michael Moore’s film “Where to Invade Next” which described some very unusual (to us) prison systems in Europe that actually were based on ideas of developing inmates’ – and possibly guards- humanity, and apparently succeeding.

    • April 21, 2022 at 21:28

      That’s the prison system in Norway. It’s as fascinating on the good side as this article is on the bad side: hxxps://

  15. Brian Mason
    April 21, 2022 at 16:24

    Deja vu to your article about depraved indifference in BOP chief. Food poisoning is deadly so maybe some criminal negligence or negligent homicide or manslaughter charges? How does this differ from concentration camps again? Sounds like they mean to cure recidivism by ensuring fewer survive the sentence.

  16. Duane
    April 21, 2022 at 16:18

    Wow. Just wow. I feel like we have stepped back 100 years in prison system conduct. Thank you for this expose, and I hope that it reaches a wide audience. Honestly, I’m in a state of shock.

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