DECEMBER 15, 2021

Cold, Rotting, & Moldy Meals

Food Oppression in the Orange County Jails

For almost two years, people incarcerated in Orange County jails have been eating three bagged, cold, spoiled meals every day. These meals contain slices of bread and bologna, sometimes accompanied by a small portion of carrots or an apple, and people report that the sandwiches are frequently served rotten or moldy. The meals are also extremely high in sodium and cholesterol, and people report experiencing illness and hunger. Since Spring 2020, many of those who could afford it have relied on food for purchase at the commissary to supplement the cold meals.

A new report by the Stop the Musick Coalition and our community partners, “Cold, Rotting, & Moldy Meals: Food Oppression in the Orange County Jails,” details the way that the food conditions in Orange County jails have reached a crisis after the kitchen closure, while the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (“OCSD”) has saved money.

Jails are traumatic, abusive, and violent places. Orange County jails disproportionately incarcerate people of color, unhoused people, and people facing economic instability. Criminalization is a tool of racial and economic oppression. Incarceration extracts wealth from families through fines, fees, commissary costs, and phone call costs. Incarceration also excludes people from access to economic opportunity by causing incarcerated people to lose work and their families’ to lose a source of income, then imposing barriers to employment after release. Incarceration causes further housing instability because a criminal record creates additional barriers to accessing housing. Cages solve nothing, and the suffering of our incarcerated neighbors, who have been deprived of decent meals for almost two years, underscores that.

We’ve worked with incarcerated members of our coalition who are organizers and advocates to build this report. Their bravery and vision drove this publication. We aren’t fighting for better food because we believe that it could ever make a cage humane–we are fighting alongside incarcerated members of our organization to demand that their basic human rights be protected as they fight to free all people.

The report finds that:

  • The jail kitchens were closed in March 2020, and hot meals still have not been fully reinstated
  • The jails have been serving cold and frequently moldy or rotting bologna sandwiches for nearly every meal
  • This new menu contains poor nutrition, including excessive levels of sodium
  • Many people report becoming ill or going hungry because of the poor conditions of the food
  • During this same time, OCSD has saved significant funds (almost $1 million in 2020) allocated to the food service budget
  • During this time, despite an almost-50% drop in the jail population, the commissary store has continued to bring in consistently high revenue

The food in Orange County jails has always been unhealthy and of poor quality and taste. In 2019, a grand jury report found that hypertension and attendant heart conditions, which can be caused by high-sodium and unhealthy diets, was a leading cause of unnecessary deaths. These nutrition deficits have increased since the kitchen closure March 2020.

Stop the Musick believes that this horrible food is only one example of the inhumane and cruel conditions in all jails. No person should be caged. OCSD must provide adequate food to people in custody until we can create a world without cages.