Food in prisons is so bad that ramen is now the dominant currency among inmates

Food in prison is often neither tasty nor nutritious.
(Image credit: iStock)

Nutritious food is in such short supply in U.S. prisons that ramen noodles have actually overtaken tobacco as the dominant currency among inmates, The Guardian reports. "[Money] doesn't change unless there's some drastic change to the value in people using it," researcher and doctoral student Michael Gibson-Light said, concluding that the shift to ramen noodle trading indicates severe nutritional deficiencies in prisons.

Inmates in the U.S. typically receive two hot meals a day with one cold lunch and only two meals on weekends; oftentimes the food offered by the institution is of very low quality and does not offer the calories necessary to give inmates the energy to get through the day. As a result, ramen noodles have an outsized value among inmates, Gibson-Light found:

At the prison from the study, ramen cost 59 cents at the commissary but would be exchanged for items worth more in value. For instance, a sweatshirt — worth $10.81 — can be bought for two packs of ramen. Five tailor-made cigarettes — worth $2.00 — can be bought for one pack of ramen. Acquiring fresh vegetables to cook with was extremely highly regarded, Gibson-Light said. Inmates would use ramen to buy onions or zucchinis stolen from the kitchen.Others cleaned inmates' bunks for one pack of ramen — referred to as soup — a week, or did laundry or gambled with it. [The Guardian]

"I've seen fights over ramen. People get killed over soup," one inmate told Gibson-Light.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.