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In Prison, Ramen Is Now More Valuable Than Cigarettes

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As prison food gets worse, inmates have come to rely on instant noodles

Packets of Maruchan instant ramen frankieleon/Flickr

Instant ramen is one of the cheapest convenience foods money can buy, hence its reputation as a dietary staple for broke college kids. But in prison, those packages of dried noodles and salty flavor packets are more valuable than ever, the Guardian reports.

A new study from Michael Gibson-Light, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Arizona School of Sociology, finds that as prisons have scaled back food services as a cost-cutting measure, ramen noodles have surged in popularity as a form of alternative currency.

"Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles -- a cheap, durable food product -- as a form of money in the underground economy," Gibson-Light says in a press release from the American Sociological Association.

While prisoners have long traded food and other items purchased from prison commissaries, Gibson-Light says ramen is now even more prized than cigarettes, previously considered the most desirable sundry for the incarcerated.

"The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change . . . The fact that this practice has suddenly changed has potentially serious implications," Gibson-Light says, calling for further study of how prisons feed their inmates.

Last year, following a campaign by inmate advocate groups, the state of New York announced it would no longer serve prisoners the punitive meal known as Nutraloaf, a horrifically bland mishmash of cheap ingredients like flour, milk, yeast, potatoes, carrots, margarine, and sugar mixed together and baked into a one-pound loaf.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department announced last week that it would begin phasing out the use of private prisons — though whether or not that will result in better food for inmates will remain to be seen.

Ramen Is Displacing Tobacco as Most Popular US Prison Currency [The Guardian]

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