Exploring Foodscapes in the Context of a Prison Environment

Journal Entry # 10 - Week 10 
Jennifer Parker:

Exploring Foodscapes in the Context of a Prison Environment

- Consider food accessibility and relationships to food
- What is “local” within the context of your place?

Institutionalized food is something that is rarely considered as a topic in geography courses.  Indeed, being in a fourth year honours geography seminar at the moment entitled “Sustainable Food Systems,” the only forms of institutionalized food that we have really considered are food systems related to schools.  By taking this seminar course as well as receiving a lecture from Sinead Earley about food systems, I have not only begun to really consider my personal food choices, but also food production, distribution, and consumption processes in varying contexts.  During my tutoring experience at the prison, I was very interested when walking by what appeared to be a garden inside the prison walls.  Located on the east side of Kingston Penitentiary and just north of the Regional Treatment Centre, a small outdoor garden exists within the confines of the prison.
When I first saw this garden at Kingston Penitentiary, I inquired more, asking the teacher who supervises us each week some questions related to the garden.  I soon discovered that inmates can apply for the gardening program and that they get to keep all of the food they produce for themselves.  When I got into my tutoring session, I asked my learners if any of them had worked in the gardening program and soon found out that all three worked in the garden last summer.  While they did say that they got to keep the food they produced, they also did mention that food sharing often happens amongst those involved in the program.  Therefore, a type of social capital is present within the prison’s foodscape, whereby processes of working cooperatively can ultimately help inmates gain the greatest benefit.  For example, one my learners produced bags full of basil, dill, and rosemary and he often shared these spices with other gardening inmates, receiving vegetables in return.  My learners continued to share stories, commenting that they produce everything from tomatoes to potatoes to carrots.  
My learners also mentioned that the food gardening program is one of their favourite programs as they do not receive fresh food very often on a regular prison diet.  All of them were very enthusiastic about telling me how bland the food can be at the prison and thus, the gardening program is their chance to consume fresh foods.  They also mentioned how the gardening program allows them to connect with the natural environment, and that producing and consuming the fruits of their labour is a way in which they can create a comforting “sense of place” while still inside prison walls.  I then asked my learners about special diets, such as kosher diets and vegetarianism.  I was interested to learn that one of my learners had been vegetarian before coming to prison, but upon arrival and often receiving tofu as a meat substitute, he quickly decided to consume meat once again.  One of my other learners is Jewish and he said that the prison system is really good for accommodating his diet.  However, they all agreed that the food in general can be quite plain and distasteful and so being able to eat fresh vegetables and spices from the garden for half of the year is a special treat that is also a way to connect them to the “outside” world and the food they ate before being admitted into prison.   




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