Ramen is one of the most popular foods in the country- it’s been having a major moment for years now. Every neighborhood has its ramen shop at this point. Now, it has overtaken tobacco as the number one currency in US prisons, The Guardian reports.
According to a study done by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona, decreasing quantity and a decline in quality of food served to US prisoners have made the food a commodity. And the noodles are being traded for a lot more than they’re worth. At the prison used for the study, a package of ramen runs for 59 cents at the commissary, but at inmate stores, which are illegal, they can go for much more. A sweatshirt that costs $10.81 can be traded for two packs of ramen. Prisoners also clean each others bunks for packs of ramen, or gamble with it. The change is a signifier of a major problem with nutrition in prisons. “[Money] doesn’t change unless there’s some drastic change to the value in people using it,” Gibson-Light said.
He attributes ramen’s popularity to the fact that it’s “easy to get” and “high in calories,” something of value to people who “spend their days working and exercising.” They need the energy.
Ramen has been popular in prison for a long time. Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez who spent more than ten years in prison wrote a book about it called Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories From Behind Bars. It includes recipes that can be made with items available to prisoners, such as tamales “Doritos, canned pork and beans, and ramen,” and celebrity ramen recipes.
It’s not all trading and food hacks, though. When something is valuable and being traded on a sort of black market, things can get tricky. At inmate stores, people often buy things on credit. When credit isn’t paid, it leads to problems. “I’ve seen fights over ramen,” said one inmate. “People get killed over soup.”
[H/T The Guardian]
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