Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION VI.: DIET. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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SECTION VI.: DIET. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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On the important head of diet, the principles already established leave little here to add.
1. Quantity—unlimited;* that is, as much as each man chooses to eat.
2. Price—the cheapest.†
3. Savour—the least palatable of any in common use.‡
5. Change—none, unless for cheapness.
7. Liberty to any man to purchase more palatable diet out of his share of earnings.∥
8. Fermented liquors excepted, which, even small beer, ought never to be allowed on any terms.§
Thus speak our three rules. Look round among the systems in practice: we shall find them all three transgressed, and what is more, the opposite excesses united in one and the same transgression. Many different dietaries have been adopted, prescribed, or recommended. These opposite defects may be observed more or less in all of them. In all of them, the food is limited in quantity: in all of them, it is more or less too good in quality. At Wymondham, three different sorts of things in turn, but of the only one of which the quantity is specified, viz. bread, a deplorably scanty measure. Thus far, however, right, as, except one meal in the week, animal food forms no part of it.*
Twopenny worth of bread only for a whole day! and this under the hardest as well as the easiest work! Twopenny worth of bread? Many a man will eat as much with his meat at a single meal. The allowance settled, too, not by quantity but by value! If thus scanty when at the largest rate, what must it be when one third of it is struck off? Under a regimen like this, a prison must be a scene of perpetual famine. I read it in the dietary: Howard read it in men’s countenances. “Several young men,” says he, (his visit was in 1788† ) “seemed as if they could not go out so fit for labour as they come in.” Nobody, it is said, dies there. I believe it—they do not stay there long enough: but there are slow poisons as well as quick ones. Nobody, it is added, is sick there. I deny it: everybody is sick there, and always. Is not a perpetual gnawing in the stomach a disease? Work little or much, behave well or ill, this is to be their fate. Were I to put a man to such a regimen, which as a necessary means to a fit end I should not scruple, I should speak honestly, and call it torture—I should use it instead of a thumb-screw: it is applying the rack to the inside of the stomach, instead of the outside of a limb. Men that have once been there, do not come there a second time. I dare say they don’t; nor would they, were their allowance thrice as great as it is. It is said, the profits of the work are more than double the expense of this maintenance. I dare say they are. Why?—because the maintenance is less than half what is sufficient.‡
The good Howard, who with me protests against this dietary, has given us one of his own: and in this, as in so many other instances, has shown how little self was in his thoughts. Good things, a variety of them, and butcher’s meat amongst the rest.∥ Butcher’s meat twice, or rather four times aweek, to felons whose diet is to be their punishment! Butcher’s meat for the lowest vulgar, as if for fear a cheaper diet should not agree with them! He himself all this while never suffering a morsel to enter within his lips. Yet what man ever enjoyed a more uninterrupted flow of health and spirits?
This inconsistency, in a word, runs through all the dietaries I have ever met with. Nobody has ever had the courage to be either cruel enough to feed felons as so many honest men would be glad to be fed, or extravagant enough to give them as much of the poorest food as they require. The simplest course, one would think, was doomed to be always the last thought of.
I look at the hulk dietaries; and in these, animal food abounds more than in any other. This is not difficult to be accounted for. The prisons are ships—the guards seamen: it must be seaman’s provender. What was the custom at sea, would of course be kept in view, not what was the custom elsewhere, where men are kept cheaper; much less, what are the demands of nature. Neighbour’s fare could not well be denied; especially when such a price was paid for it. Howard, too, had been there, and grumbled: and there were those who had the fear of Howard before their eyes. The powers above were doubtless told, that all this good living was well paid for in work: men who work hard must be well fed; and when men are well fed, those who feed them must be well paid for it. What has not been said, I suppose, to the powers above, is however most true, that what is paid for thus working men and feeding them, over and above what need be paid, is more than even the pretended value of their work.
Turn now to the penitentiary act. Another visit to the kitchen, and as much got by it as before. By § 35, every offender is to be “sustained with bread and any coarse meat or other inferior food, and water or small beer.”
For humanity, for health, for comfort, what does this do? Nothing. In what respect can the prisoners be the better for this article? In none. What says it? That the food shall be sufficient? No. That it shall be wholesome? No; not so much even as that. What then?—that bread shall form a part of it. They are to have—what? bread and something besides. What is that something to be? is it to be meat, at all events? No: but either meat, so as it be coarse, or any thing else whatever, so as it be of an inferior kind. Inferior to what? That the statute has not told us, and it would have been rather difficult for it to have told us.
For economy, what does it? Nothing.—Does it set up any sort of barrier against unthriftiness or waste? May not meat, though coarse, be unthrifty food, if furnished in an unnecessary quantity, or laid in upon unthrifty terms? Might not their caterer cram them with Polignac rolls, for anything there is in the act to hinder him?
It does worse than nothing. One thing it does determine: bread they must have—bread for ever, and at all events. Why always and at all events bread? Is it that bread is always the cheapest of all food? By no means. Whether it be so at any time, it is not necessary to inquire: it is sufficient that it is not always. Bread is a manufacture. Does not the earth afford substances that will serve for food—that are actually made to serve for food, with less expense of manufacture? Is bread anywhere a necessary article? Is it so much as universal amongst ourselves? Are there are not hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of honest men in the three kingdoms, to whom the very taste of it is unknown? Is not Ireland fed with potatoes? Is not Scotland fed with oatmeal? Is that inferior grain so much as manufactured into bread? Are Irishmen a puny race? Is the arm of the Highlander found weak in war?—What a lesson to hold out to so large a portion of the people!—that the food they are content with, the best their country can afford them, is not good enough for felons!*
For what purpose, then, can this regulation serve?—for what could it have been meant to serve? For guidance?—for instruction? Did it need the united power and wisdom of King, Lords, and Commons, to inform us that there are things which may be eaten with bread, and that meat is one of them? Almost equally useless is that part which prescribes the drink, though not equally pernicious. They are to have—what? Either water or small beer. If the being confined to water is an undue hardship, what does this clause to save them from it? If it is not an undue hardship, why expose the public to be put to the expense so much as of small beer? In what respect is the regulation of the smallest use to them? Though they were to have beer given to them, is there anything in the act to prevent its being sour or musty?
For what use, then, this regulation about diet, when profusion is left without bounds, and when the prisoners may be starved or poisoned for anything that it does to save them? Ask of what disservice: the answer is plain, and not to be contradicted. It prevents them from being fed so cheaply as otherwise, without any prejudice to health, they might be. In this important article good economy and this act cannot exist together.
Ask my contractor, and after a year or two’s trial he will tell you distinctly how many thousands the nation would have had to pay for this excursion into the kitchen. The world, you will find, might be sailed round and round for a small part of the expense.
Vain would it be to say, “So long as you give them bread, though it be but a morsel, you may compose the bulk of their food of whatever is cheaper, without violating the letter of the law.” Certainly: but could you without violating the spirit? without departing from what it was evident the authors had in view? Is not the article of bread put foremost? Is it not evident that, according to the notion and intention of those who drew this clause, bread was to compose the principal part of the men’s food? But suppose the clause not obligatory—what would it then be? Nugatory. Here, as before—mischief, or nothing—such is the alternative.
Turn them over to a contractor, and observe how different the result. No need to rack invention to prevent his spending too much upon their food. Leave it to him, and one thing you may be sure of, that in this way, as in all others, as little will be spent upon them as possible.
The only thing to fear in this case is, lest he should not bestow as much upon them as he ought. But against this you have your remedy. Do what the penitentiary act has not done: require that the food shall be wholesome, and that there shall be enough of it. This is something. It is such ground as not only popular censure, but a legal indictment, may be built upon. Is it not yet enough? Say that, punishment apart, he shall feed them to the extent of their desires. Will he still fail you? Hardly. Even upon the plan of the present penitentiary act, some eyes, upon the Panopticon plan all eyes, are on him. The latitude thus given him, with regard to the choice of the food, which of course will be of the cheapest sort, is even of service to his integrity, and to the comfort of the prisoners in this respect, by the jealousy it excites. Whatever he does in this way is his own doing—the result of a motive, of which the force is known to every one, and regarded with a suspicion which is as universal as it is reasonable. It is his own doing, and seen by everybody to be so. No pretence of public good—no letter of any law to afford shelter to inhumanity or avarice.
[* ]Rule of lenity, see Section 1.
[† ]Rule of economy.
[‡ ]Rule of severity.
[∥ ]Rule of economy.—Few cases, I believe, there are, if any, in which it will not be found advantageous, even in point of economy, to allow a man, in the way of reward, a proportion of his earnings. But reward must assume the shape of a present gratification, and that too of the sensual class, or, in the eyes of perhaps the major part of such a company, it can scarcely be expected to have any value; and if it take a sensual shape, it cannot take-a more unexceptionable one.
[§ ]Rule of severity.—How many thousands of the honest and industrious poor are incapable, unless at the expense of food and nourishment, of giving themselves this unnecessary indulgence!
[* ]Wymondham Dietary—Two Meals.
[† ]September 12.—On Lazarettos, p. 152.
[‡ ]God forbid what is here said should be the means of throwing anything like odium on the labours of the respectable magistrate to whom the public is indebted for this regimen and the account we have of it. Of the purity of his intentions, malice itself could not suggest a doubt: of his having conscience on his side, he has given the most unquestionable proof that man can give; for it is he himself who publishes his plan, and calls upon the world to judge of it. Seeing that economy was the point at which the penitentiary system stuck, it was his zeal for the system that carried him these lengths to serve it. Is this serving it as it ought to be served? that is the question. It is an honest difference between us, and I hope not an irreconcileable one. But while my opinions on this head remain as they are, I cannot help regretting, for the sake of the prisoners, that some contracting Jew had not had the management of the prison. The most rapacious of the tribe would not have dared to go such lengths on the side of parsimony, as this gentleman has gone from the purest motives: if he had, instead of proclaiming it and calling for imitation, he would have been as anxious to conceal it as if he had stolen what he saved.
[∥ ]Howard’s Dietary.—Good wheaten bread, 1½ lb. daily; viz. ½ lb. at breakfast, and 1 lb. at dinner.
[* ]Not only bread is to be given at all events in ordinary, but even where an inferior diet is prescribed to be given for punishment’s sake, still it is to consist of bread. Guilt upon guilt, and the most guilty among the guilty are never to be sunk so low in this school of rigid discipline, as to be no higher than upon a par with liberty and innocence.