last supper

A friend called me and informed me that Troy Davis refused his last meal. He was executed last night in Georgia at 11:08 p.m.

On my bookshelf is a slim black volume called Last Meal, published by Common Courage Press (2003) and conceived by Jacquelyn C. Black.  It is a culinary catalogue of another kind, marking the contents of the last meals for 23 convicted felons in Texas on their way to state-sanctioned execution.  There are no menus here and certainly no elaborate sauces beyond the ketchup lacing a plate of fries.  James Russell, executed on September 19, 1991, requested an apple.  His last words, strung together, reportedly spanned 3 minutes, but went unrecorded for those he left behind.  Karla Faye Tucker wanted a garden salad with ranch dressing to go along with her two pieces of fruit and her impending execution.  For others like Jeffrey Allen Barney, the choice was a bowl of frosted flakes (they’re G-R-R-Reat!) and milk from Sunnydale farms.  The list of ingredients that make for a last meal reads like a popular culture litmus of American tastes, and some of my favorites are there: cheeseburger and fries, fried chicken, dill pickles, and chocolate ice cream, all at a premium in the institutional or fast-food kitchen.  Committed to my farmer’s market and coop, I try to conjure up a memory of the supermarket aisles I trolled as a child, and the fast-food joints to which my single-parent mother pulled up, exhausted on a Friday night.  In these foods and smells are a comfort and a curse; my rage at what has happened to Davis rests in his refusal to partake.  No hollow exchange of sustenance for a fragrant oath.

Whatever the request, it must be available in the prison kitchen.  The quotidian nature of the meals in the midst of the brutality of the events they circumscribe should give us pause.  In a world where some claim that irony is lost to us, this slim little volume and its requests, grants and finality represent a terrible irony that can no longer be ignored.  Perhaps the meal serves as a sign of justice in the midst of an injustice.  But our ideas of right and wrong are skewed.  The Supreme Court once observed that just because a law was disproportionately applied, the law was not unjust.  In fact, justice here is a vague concept, and its deliverance on the day of execution, at least in Texas, is via a table setting of plastic spoon, fork and knife.

I think of the cooks in the kitchen, some of whom will be dead men/women walking in their own sweet time.  The steam from a pot of beans, the sizzle of eggs over easy on the grill, the slightly cloying smell of Ranch Dressing made with powdered buttermilk, not fresh.  Cooking is meditation, love and loss.  It is what you do for comfort and for care.  It is something small and meaningful you can give to someone.  I think about the skill and determination it takes to make that all-important meal.  As if someone’s life depends on it.  I think also about what it might mean to want nothing and to give nothing.

I will rest with Troy Davis’ refusal for some time.  He brought a question to my table.  I have a responsibility now to contemplate it, if only for this brief moment.  I think we all should.



Right after this post went up, I got a link for an announcement about Texas revoking the last meal request.

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