Years ago whilst visiting friends in California, I travelled to San Francisco. I had to go to Alcatraz while I was there, of course, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable tourist attractions I’ve ever visited. So much so, I even contemplated returning for one of prison’s famous night tours but – ahem – I was too chicken!
The rules the inmates were made to follow during their stay in Alcatraz are displayed on various walls around the prison. Even though these regulations were set for a purpose, taken out of context many of them can be quite amusing. For example:
29. BATH ROOM RULES: When you go to the bathroom you will display all items of soiled clothing before the inspecting Officer. You are expected to bathe in a reasonable length of time.
30. CELLHOUSE RULES: Loud talking, shouting, whistling, singing or other unnecessary noises are not permitted. Keep your property neatly arranged on your shelves, as shown in the cell diagram.
34. HAIRCUTS AND SHAVES: Haircuts will be of regulation type. No special beards, mustaches or goatees are allowed.
40. AUDITORIUM RULES: When preparing to attend religious services or movies, you must remove everything from your pockets except your handkerchief and eyeglasses and eyeglass case.
I’m very curious to know what a ‘special beard’ is exactly! But here’s the section of the rule book that grabbed my attention when reading the rules again online today:
33. DINING ROOM RULES: Meals are served three times a day in the dining room. Do not exceed the ration. Do not waste food. Do not carry food from the dining room. Observe the ration posted on the menu board and take all that you wish to eat within the allotted amounts, but you must eat all that you take. When all inmates on a table have finished eating, the inspecting Officer will give the signal to rise and leave the dining room.
I’m not sure about Alcatraz’s facial hair policies, but their food regulations are spot on: only take as much food as you can eat, sit down at the table to eat it, eat it with other people, and don’t leave the table until everyone has finished. The regulations sound uncannily like the type of straight-talking advice Michael Pollan includes in his Food Rules book, (which is based on In Defense of Food, one of my non-fiction favourites).
With today’s British food culture of munching on the move and chomping while flicking through TV channels, alongside the demise of family dining and the proliferation of all you can eat buffets, I reckon we could learn some lessons in how to eat sensibly and minimise food waste from the unlikely source of Alcatraz’s simple dining room rules.