Instant ramen noodles have replaced cigarettes as the currency of choice in America’s prisons.
The instant soups; popular with college students and cash-strapped bachelors, are now the basis of the inmate economy, The Associated Press reported. Prisoners love ramen for the same reason that cheapskates do Michael Gibson-Light; a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona, discovered.
“Because it is cheap, tasty and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods,” Gibson-Light noted in a press release. Gibson-Light discovered the Ramen economy while interviewing inmates during an investigation of the prison economy.
“Soup is money in here,” an unidentified convict told Gibson-Light.
The Ramen Economy
Gibson-Light saw prisoners bartering Ramen for almost everything including clothes, toiletries and other food. Some cons were even using the soup as chips in poker games. Ramen is also used to pay for services including sex, and violence.
What really surprised Gibson-Light was how ramen has replaced cigarettes as the currency of choice in prison. Strangely enough he does not think America’s growing opposition to smoking is the real cause of ramen’s popularity in the big house.
Instead it was a prison budget-cutting measure in the early 2000s; in which hot lunch was replaced with a cold sandwich and a bag of chips. To make matters worse the size of the portions at meals were reduced in many correctional institutions.
“It got to the point where some people would rather have a decent meal than a stogie; especially the way they’re feeding us in prison,” ex-convict and author Gustavo Alvarez, told the AP. “Times have changed to cut a buck.”
Ramen; which can easily be heated up or eaten cold, is a great alternative to the food served in the prison cafeteria. It’s also highly nutritious and filling, which is vital for a con trying to bulk up in an attempt to look tough in the yard.
“Prison is like the streets,” a convict said. “You use currency for everything. In here, it’s soups.”
Ramen is Gold
One person who understands the Ramen economy well is an ex-con named Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez, the AP reported. Alvarez has written a cookbook called Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars which he plans to publish in November.
“It’s gold. It’s literally gold,” Alvarez said of Ramen in a statement to The Washington Post. “People will actually – and I hate to say this but – they’ll kill for it, believe it or not.”
Alvarez remembers waiting for an hour to get lukewarm water out of the tap in his cell; and eating Ramen cold with cheese, mayonnaise and even peanut butter.
Hopefully some economists will study the Ramen economy and see how it functions. It sounds like a fascinating story and it has a very good lesson for those here on the outside.
Ramen for Survival
If you’re one of those prepper types who is stocking up for the collapses of civilization perhaps you should forget about hoarding gold and bullets. Instead you should stock up on Ramen noodles.
The prisoners’ experiences show us that if the economy collapses; or the country is hit with a major catastrophe such as a massive electromagnetic pulse, ramen will be worth its weight in gold. It is cheap, popular, tasty, nutritious, easy to get and easy to cook. All you need is boiling water and it does not have to be refrigerated.
The rest of us might consider stocking up on ramen because it can help us save money. Particularly those of us who have unsteady incomes – such as gig economy workers – would be well advised to keep a large supply of ramen in the pantry.
Another advantage is that you can use it in a wide variety of dishes. You can use the noodles as a side dish or mix them with stuff like meat and canned foods like oysters or tuna.
More importantly Ramen; unlike those expensive survival meals, is something that will probably use right now. You can also save some money by not having to purchase those expensive canned soups. If want some ideas for cooking ramen why not check out Mr. Alvarez’s cookbook, after all he is an expert in its use.