Last night, Ronnie Lee Gardner was>"/>
Last night, Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Utah. And while I have no particular opinion about him or the manner of his death, and have no interest in having a blog fight about capital punishment, I was interested, as always, in his last meal.
Gardner had steak, a lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7 Up. That was his request. He also spent the days leading up to his execution watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and reading Divine Justice, by David Baldacci, but I care less about the book and the movies than I do the food. Steak and lobster, apple pie with ice cream--luxury foods and comfort foods, a classically American indulgence spelled out on a tin tray. It makes me wonder how often (if at all) Gardner had eaten steak and lobster in his life prior to his last meal on earth.
Last meals are a weird thing. The tradition of feeding the condemned has been around for centuries and is a notion deeply inscribed into our understanding of crime and punishment. What's more, last meals for the non-condemned are often just as important, just as telling.
In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain talks about the "Last Supper game"--the one that cooks play when they're bored, standing around pre-service smoking cigarettes or propping up the bar at night. If you knew it was coming--if you knew that you had time left for just one meal before that piano fell on you walking home--what would you choose? Author and photographer Melanie Dunea made an entire book of this question (My Last Supper, with an introduction written by Bourdain), asking 50 chefs what theirs would be. There are entire websites devoted to nothing but the last meal requests of prisoners executed for their crimes, others that branch out and ask (one assumes) non-serial-killers what they would choose.
Adolph Eichman drank half a bottle of wine--Carmel, actually, a dry, red Israeli wine, according to Wikipedia. John Wayne Gacy? A dozen fried shrimp and a bucket of KFC Original Recipe. Bourdain, for the record, would like his last meal to be at St. John, eating trotters and tails from his buddy Fergus Henderson. On death row, the most common requests appear to be for fat steaks, fried chicken and ice cream. Timothy McVeigh had two pints of mint chocolate chip. Robert Alton Harris had fried chicken, two large pizzas, ice cream, a bag of jelly beans and a pack of Camels.
As for what I'd choose, that's a cinch. I've been playing the Last Supper game for years, and was actually asked more than once, while doing interviews for my book, Cooking Dirty, what I would choose. My answer has always been the same.
Cheeseburger and fries with extra hot sauce from Schaller's in Rochester, New York. A slice of my wife Laura's meatloaf. Peppermint ice cream. And because I don't have to adhere to the rules governing items disallowed by the prison system, a pack of cigarettes and a six-pack of Genny Cream Ale to send me off gently into that good night.
Now it's your turn. Let's assume for a moment that none of us have torched a bus full of nuns and so are not sitting on death row. But still, that truck with your name on it is coming. That piano is about to fall. Fate has decreed that you've got time left for just one meal. Think carefully. Answer honestly.
So what's it going to be?