Where did the custom of serving a death row prisoner a final meal originate?
While capital punishment is a polarizing topic, most of us harbor some morbid fascination with a condemned prisoner's last meal. Perhaps we wonder what we'd request if we had to choose a final meal, or maybe we're just curious about the eating habits of others.
After a couple of unsuccessful searches, we were about to pull the switch on our quest when a search on "final meal history" provided a discussion of the answer.
In an obscure and abandoned Norwegian journal, we located a fascinating interview from 1999 about the custom of final meals. James Marsh and Mats Bigert thoroughly researched the issue of last meals, and both men made short documentary films dealing with the ritual. They offer their thoughts on its origin in this informative discussion.
Marsh points out that America and Japan are the only post-industrial nations that impose the death penalty and relates the tradition to Christ's Last Supper. Bigert traces the roots of the last meal even further back to the Greeks. The Greeks didn't want a condemned person to be hungry on the journey to the kingdom of death, lest an executed soul be stuck in purgatory with a case of the grumbles.
Both men recount interesting tales of the role of food in executions in Europe throughout history. Bigert summarizes the answer by saying, "I don't think there's one specific origin to the ritual. It's been used all over the world in different ways... "
A couple of sites may satisfy your hunger for information on prisoners' final meals. The Memory Hole preserved the all-time classic "Texas Final Meal Requests" page that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice excised from their site in 2003. Stepping into Texas' large void, Dead Man Eating now chronicles last meals from prisoners all over the nation.