The Constitution requires that prisons provide inmates with nutritionally adequate food that is prepared and served under conditions which do not present an immediate threat to the health and well-being of the inmates who consume it. French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1255 (7th Cir. 1985). Similarly, inmates cannot be deprived of drinkable water. Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 830 (7th Cir. 2011).
While the food has to be nutritionally adequate, there is no constitutional requirement that it taste good. The Courts have constitutionally approved, in certain circumstances, the use of bad-tasting food that is given to inmates as a form of punishment. See Prude v. Clarke, 675 F.3d 732, 734-36 (7th Cir. 2012).
On September 25, 2015, the 7th Circuit issued a decision addressing concerns by an inmate who is an Army veteran about the conditions of the jail and quality of the food. See law.justia.com/ cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca7/14-1169/14-1169-2015-09-25.html (last visited September 27, 2015). The trial court dismissed the inmate’s claims. However, on appeal, the 7th Circuit reversed that decision (in part). It held that it was enough for the inmate to have alleged that the food was well below nutritional value. However, of note, the Court seemed to question whether the inmate could actually prove his claim that the food was nutritionally inadequate at a later point in the litigation. Nonetheless, the Court’s decision reinforces that there are certain minimum threshold standards that prisons and jails must meet when serving food to inmates.
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