The last meal

By Lan Nguyen @HoangLanWorld

Food preferences speak volumes about our character and personality. The last meal, a customary ritual that precedes execution for capital punishment, is an extreme moment of life and the last time inmates get to express themselves, without words.

Australia does not have capital punishment. It is one of more than 100 countries in the UN that have abolished it for all crimes. The US is one of the 55 countries that have retained the sentence.

The death sentence is always handed out for the most heinous crimes, always involving loss of life and injuries of multiple people, all at the hands of the perpetrator. The death sentence is not carried out immediately after sentencing but usually after many years of appeal through the judicial system.

Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the Oklahoma city bombing which killed 186 people, received 2 pints of chocolate mint chip ice cream.

Not so well known is Victor Feguer who requested one whole olive with pit in it, a culinary punctuation mark to his life.

Historical figures such as Saddam Hussein and Adolf Eichman also had their last meal. It was typical that Saddam’s last meal was shrouded in uncertainty as to whether he ate chicken and shawarma rice and smoked cigarettes.

Adolf Eichmann, Holocaust perpetrator, consumed the usual meal of cheese, olives and bread but requested a bottle of Carmel wine. Carmel is Israel’s oldest vineyard planted by Edmund de Rothschild, maker of Chateau Lafite, and a Zionist who gave support to the state of Israel when the Jewish people first migrated back to Palestine late 19th century.

sacramental bread
Sacramental bread. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC
Sacramental bread in holy communion has also been the last meal, requested by Roger Casement. He was convicted of treason against the UK for leading the Easter Uprising to gain Irish independence.

Closer to Australia, 2 of the Bali Nine Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed in Indonesia in 2015 as drug ring leaders. Their specially granted last meal was KFC.

There were the rare inmate who requested only water for their last meal.

Walking through the gruesome details of their crimes, the last meal was an expression of the last corner of their humanity, arrived at no doubt by a long journey of reflection.

Read more about artist Henry Hargreaves’ project here.

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