Chow Hall is a semi-regular column by Justin Slavinski, a writer incarcerated in Florida who provides anecdotes and insights about food and meals served in prison.
It’s been nine days since my last serving of Nutella.
I would eat so much more if I could, especially in here. I’d eat it all the time: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, dessert. I’d spread it on the plain white bread served at nearly every meal in the dining hall. I’d eat it with oatmeal, if pressed. Shoot, I bet it would be good with an unseasoned ramen noodle soup. Everything is better with Nutella.
For the uninitiated, Nutella is a blend of palm oil, sugar, cocoa and hazelnuts that seems to be sent from the heavens but in actuality dates back to the 1940s in a region of Italy known for producing hazelnuts. After World War II cocoa was expensive and hard to find, so adding other ingredients helped the cocoa supply last longer. The brand name Nutella was born in 1964.
It improves almost anything. You can frost a cake with it, put it on waffles, fill cupcakes with it, make elevated Fluffernutter-style sandwiches with crushed hazelnuts, spread it on a banana or even an apple.
No more Nutella?
I once had a steady supply of my favorite treat, but the Florida Department of Corrections doesn’t offer Nutella for sale on the inmate canteen menu. Six years ago, the FDC also eliminated the other avenue for obtaining Nutella — a package program that permitted families and friends to purchase specialty items from a catalog for their incarcerated loved ones on a quarterly basis. The list included single-serve, half-ounce cups of Nutella.
The package program extended the selection of fish and meats, snacks, desserts and toiletries far beyond the ordinary canteen selections offered by Trinity Services Group, our current canteen provider. If the canteen offered five varieties of sardines and mackerel, for example, the quarterly package program tacked on five to seven more. With such a wonderful opportunity available to us incarcerated individuals, the good times had to come to an end.
The FDC indicated in 2019 — by posting online — that they would begin the solicitation process for a new package provider. Then COVID-19 happened, and four more years passed.
So, after 2017, no more Nutella. At least not officially. Fortunately, I have a really long memory.
My Nutella story
My obsession with Nutella started in high school. My family went to Germany, and at every inn in every village the breakfast buffet table featured plain, lightly sweetened yogurt and muesli in large bowls alongside hot, fresh-baked rolls and assorted fruits.
At one inn, beside the plain, white yogurt was an extra bowl with what we assumed was chocolate yogurt or pudding. This being 1995, Nutella had only been sold in the U.S. for a little over a decade, and we hadn’t noticed it in the supermarket yet, so our frame of reference was lacking.
The moment of realization that this chocolate yogurt was not, in fact, yogurt but something far tastier and far more delicious was one that changed my life.
That breakfast and every subsequent breakfast in Germany, I demolished the buffet. An unhealthy, irrational, indulgent amount of Nutella and rolls were consumed. Yet, I felt no shame. I only felt joy.
How to sneak Nutella
Throughout high school I ate it by the spoonful out of the jar in the cupboard (sorry, Mom!). In college, I slathered it on Oreos. Before coming to prison, I dipped large pretzel sticks in the jar, often double dipping.
Nine days ago, however, I found myself in possession of a lone Ferrero Rocher gold-wrapped candy. Ferrero is the parent company of Nutella. The round Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates are filled with Nutella.
When I held this candy in my hand, shock gave way to the intense pleasure of unwrapping then delighting in a taste of Nutella, my first in months.
One bite took me back in time, to that dining room at some inn in Germany’s countryside, where a 15-year-old me ate Nutella on a steaming hot roll.
It’s simple, it’s small, and it’s something you, dear readers, can purchase at a gas station. But to me? It’s unbridled joy.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.