ALBANY -- On death row, last meals tend to be high in calories and heavy on meat.
French fries, soda, ice cream, hamburgers, chicken, steak and pie are commonly requested items among those facing execution, according to Cornell University researchers who studied 193 last meal requests in the United States.
The final meals of condemned prisoners are an enduring, if morbid, source of fascination -- whether those convicted of the most heinous crimes opted for a final lobster dinner or canned spaghetti. Requests vary greatly, but the researchers found some general trends in a quirky analysis of last meal orders.
No surprise: Many last meal requests may be tasty, but unhealthy. More than two-thirds of the condemned ordered fried foods, mostly french fries, and they ordered dessert at about the same rate. Inmates were five times more likely to request soda than milk.
The average meal request came in at an estimated 2,756 calories, more than a typical grown man needs in a day. Researchers estimated that four of the meal requests tallied more than 7,200 calories, including a request for 12 pieces of fried chicken, two buttered rolls, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, two sodas and a pint each of strawberry and vanilla ice cream.
Comfort foods were popular among the condemned. More than a third (37 percent) asked for the most popular meat, chicken, followed by hamburger (24 percent) and steak (22 percent). Four percent requested fast-food takeout from chains like McDonald's, Wendy's or KFC. Fruits and vegetables were much less popular, though more than a quarter requested a salad.
Lead researcher Brian Wansink, who directs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in upstate Ithaca, said the popularity of comfort foods and name-brand products like Coca-Cola could reflect people trying to deal with extremely high stress by surrounding themselves with familiar food.
"In some ways, this might be a way to bring the level of stress and negative excitement down to something that's a little bit more manageable," Wansink said. Researchers said it's also possible that some patterns, such as the paucity of vegetarian meals, could reflect the socioeconomic backgrounds of people on death row.
Researchers looked at 247 people executed in the United States from 2002 through 2006. All but two were men, and the average age at the time of execution was 43. They focused on 193 meals after excluding 51 inmates who did not choose a last meal, and three more who had a meal under 200 calories, including a person who requested a single pitted olive.