Prisoners of taste: 'Food for Freedom' in Kerala jails


Prisons are hardly known for good food. But jails across Kerala are out to change that image. They sell food made by the inmates in the prison kitchens for a profit. Takeaway counters and sales vans sell the dishes and baked goods under the brand name “Food for Freedom”.

The modest experiment started at the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram in 2010 to help jails live up to the ideal of correctional centres has spread to many more centres. The number of workers and counters and the variety on offer have grown. The prisons contribute ₹3 crore a year to the exchequer from food sales. After serving their terms, several cooks who cut their teeth at the “industrial prison canteens” make a living out of the skill they learnt behind bars.

Meant for the poor

Targeted at low-income groups, the professionally packed ready-to-eat chapathis, biryanis and chicken curry are competitively priced. As if inflation has been arrested, the prices have not gone up for a long time. A chapathi costs ₹2 and a plate of chicken curry ₹20. Prison authorities say no preservatives or other chemicals are added. People crowd the outlets, prompting the government to open more of them.

The one-off cafeteria in the Thiruvananthapuram prison is top-of-the-line with air-conditioning and ample parking space. The Kannur prison will get one such soon. Both will have Wi-Fi connectivity and mobile phone charging ports. The kitchens are being modernised to keep up with the demand. The authorities say the cooks are selected based on aptitude and medical fitness. The prison authorities keep a wage register, and on the request of the inmate, send money to the family.

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