The Vermont Supreme Court has an unusual case to chew on -- whether a special meal provided to prison inmates is punishment.
"It tastes very bad and doesn't look too good, but everyone can judge that for themselves," said Seth Lipschutz, an attorney for the Vt. Defender General's office who was representing the inmates.
The meal is called nutraloaf. The main ingredients -- whole wheat bread, grated cheese, carrots, spinach, raisins, beans, tomato paste, powdered milk and potato flakes.
Lipschutz said serving it constitutes punishment. State law allows only certain means of punishment and requires a formal disciplinary process, including a hearing with 24 hours notice.
"Major misconduct requires a disciplinary hearing," he said. "It requires due process."
But the Corrections Department said nutraloaf is a nutritious alternative meal for inmates who throw food, utensils or human waste.
"The reason nutraloaf is required is that once an inmate is prohibited from possessing food trays and cups and utensils, the department still has to feed them," said Vt. Assistant Attorney General Kurt Kuehl.
Nutraloaf has been in use in Vermont since September 2005. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hoffman said nutraloaf is served an average of once a month statewide. If it were a punishment, it would be used for other misconduct, too.
"The intent of nutraloaf is not to punish, but to stop this very specific behavior," Kuehl told the court.
The case was one of six in which oral arguments were made before the court Monday at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton. Justices hear cases at the school once a year, as part of a longstanding tradition of taking the court out of Montpelier and into the community.
The public had a chance to see the court in action -- and even judge nutraloaf for themselves.
"It was like trying to eat sawdust," Aaron Lipman said.
"At first I didn't think it was that bad," Peter Gill said. "I'm not really a very picky eater. But the aftertaste was not very good."
A quick verdict from the public, but the Corrections Department said it may be months before the court issues its ruling.
So what's in nutraloaf? Here's the recipe:
6 slices Whole Wheat Bread, finely chopped
4 ounces Non-dairy Cheese, finely grated
4 ounces Raw Carrots, finely grated
12 ounces Spinach, canned, drained
4 ounces Seedless Raisins
2 cups Great Northern Beans, cooked and drained
4 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
6 ounces Tomato Paste
8 ounces Milk, powdered, instant nonfat/skim
6 ounces Potato Flakes, dehydrated
The above mixture will be divided into 3 loaves, providing 1 loaf per meal.
Mix all ingredients together in a 12-quart stainless steel mixing bowl. Make sure wet items are drained. Ingredients may be kneaded with hands (wearing plastic gloves) or mixed with a spoon. The mixture should be stiff and just moist enough to spread. Form loaf in glazed bread pan. It is suggested that the loaf pan be placed in the oven on a sheet pan containing water. This will help keep the bottom of the loaf from burning. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes until each loaf reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees. The loaf will start to pull away from the side of the bread pan when baking is completed.
Each meal contains 996 calories for a total of 2,988 calories per day.
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