Taiwan prisoners turn artisan chefs

  • ‘jail food’ takes off
- Agence France-Presse, TAOYUAN, Taiwan

Dec 31, 2016-

If it were not for the locked doors, knives chained to the table and uniformed staff, the food factory inside Taoyuan women’s prison would resemble any commercial kitchen.

Inmates wearing masks and hair nets mix cocoa powder to make chocolate, or chop cabbage to marinate for kimchi. They are part of a burgeoning food industry in Taiwan--artisan snacks, made behind bars. The additive-free delicacies made by prison inmates have gained a loyal public following, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Demand is driven by quality and affordability after a string of food safety scandals has made Taiwan consumers extra vigilant.

Last year sales revenue reached more than $15.62 million, with money going towards victim compensation, improvement of facilities and a wage for inmates. Some prisoners, like 39-year-old Chen, had little culinary experience before joining the production line in Taoyuan, in the north of the island. The prison rolls out a wide range of snacks, from sweets to 

fermented tofu.

“I’m happy to learn some useful skills,” Chen told AFP. “I didn’t know how to use a kitchen knife properly before as my mother always cooked for me and I didn’t need to go into the kitchen.

Inmates near release or parole can apply for the programme and are prioritised. Long-term prisoners who are judged to have behaved well or have relevant experience can also apply.

The range of jail-made food bought from prisons across Taiwan includes local favourites such as pineapple cake and peanut brittle, as well as soy sauce and free-range chicken.

What started in 2006 as a smaller programme designed to teach inmates practical skills and raise funds for prison facilities has now been rolled out to all of Taiwan’s adult jails.

More than 50 prisons make around 300 types of product for the public to buy.

Published: 31-12-2016 08:04

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