Why Do Inmates Hide Butter?

When Marion Jones, the Olympic athlete, was in prison, “several inmates befriended her and showed her . . . how to hide sticks of butter.” Just as others carry water bottles so they can drink throughout the day, I carry butter in my backpack in a jar so I can eat small amounts throughout the day. As far as I know, no one else does this. I value butter so much because it makes my brain work better. If anyone reading this knows why inmates value butter so much, please let me know.

11 Replies to “Why Do Inmates Hide Butter?”

  1. Last Tango in Paris?

    On a more serious note, I went to a military school and carried around a tube of toothpaste because we couldn’t have candy and the mint would hit the spot. I wonder if snacks are available in US prisons – I guess not – and so this may just have been a simple hunger / pleasure thing, rather than anything more.

    Also, I’d be curious if butter sticks were easy to snag during meals – easier than (say) bread, sausages and so on.

  2. About butter and the brain: I’ve been making ghee (clarified butter) recently, and find I crave it. It has some practical advantages over plain butter–it tastes especially good, doesn’t scorch when being used for frying, and it doesn’t spoil at room temperature. I do seem to function better mentally when I eat it daily. In any case, it turns out that ayurvedic medicine already has an account of ghee being good for the brain. For example, see:
    I don’t know whether there’s any significant difference in the fats themselves, between plain butter and ghee.
    I learned about making ghee from a friend who grew up Sikh. It’s my favorite cooking fat, these days.

  3. In “A Handmaid’s Tail” Margaret Atwood has the main character stealing butter to use as moisturizing lotion.

    I doubt Seth is using it as moisturizer, even indirectly. Suppose you had just two snack choices, butter or saltines. Having carbohydrates, saltines raise leptin (a hormone that suppresses appetite) and insulin levels and make you hungry later. Butter will not do this.

    Seth: I’m curious to see if omega 3 might play a role in your arithmetic gains. If so, butter in the US might not help since it’s from grain-fed cow. Butter in China might be from grass-fed cows.

  4. Maybe they use the butter in “prison gourmet cooking” like this recipe from http://www.squidoo.com/prisongourmetcooking:
    Cracker Toffee
    Steal some butter from the chow hall. Layer crackers on the bottom with sugar and butter on top. Microwave on something other than plastic which melts. Microwave with a glass of water so you don’t kill the microwave. Sucks when your down to 1 microwave for a 100 people, or worse when the sadistic guards take them away to satisfy their anger. After microwaving a few minutes, take a crumbled hershey bar with almonds, and put that over the top. The chocolate will melt. Wait 30 minutes and you will have the finest inmate toffee.

  5. You might consider getting Pastureland Butter from Minnesota, made from grass-fed cow milk, if you don’t already have a preferred grass fed butter source. They are still not shipping because they ran out of last year’s butter, but should start any time now.

    It isn’t expensive to buy locally, I’m not sure what they charge on over the web.

  6. In Julie Sahni’s _Classic Indian Cooking_ (1980), I came across this fascinating passage on clarified butter as a “brain food”:

    “In the last decade in India, just as in Western countries, there has been a growing awareness of the possible harm in consuming excessive quantities of highly saturated fats… As a result, many Indians today … have substituted unsaturated oils for saturated fats in much of their cooking. There still exists a segment of the population that feels otherwise. The vegetarians, which include Hindu Brahmins, Jains, and Buddhists, and the people from Kashmir, … do not like the substitutes. For vegetarians, usli ghee [clarified butter] is the primary source of nutrition. The Brahmins consider it brain food with supernatural powers, and attribute the development of one’s intelligence to it. Even today, young Hindu children, particularly males, are given a spoonful of usli gee every day to sharpen their intelligence. The old Brahmin ritual of feeding a newborn infant a spoonful of usli ghee within minutes of his birth is still followed by all Indians.” (pages 41–42)

  7. SM, I’m getting lots of omega-3 from flaxseed oil. So I doubt a little more from butter would make such a big difference. The butter I’m using, by the way, is from grass-fed cows. It’s Straus Dairy butter.

    Tom, thanks, that’s very interesting. It’s definitely support for my findings.

  8. I understand the reasoning for self-experimentation when the effect in question is neurological (fast response time, reliable data, reversible effects, etc.), but have you thought about and/or tested yourself for the non-neurological effects of the high butter consumption?

    I am not asking this question to be confrontational, and I’m aware of the potentially shaky evidence connecting saturated fat intake to heart disease. But have you done any simple tests, like measuring blood pressure before/after starting a high-butter diet? Or had cholesterol or circulatory measurements? Also, what about long-term effects that you cannot possibly predict (e.g. atherosclerosis) based on neurological feedback?

    Perhaps this has been addressed elsewhere in the blog, so forgive me for resurrecting an old thread without reading the entire contents of the site first.

  9. The butter has replaced pork fat. The pork fat clearly improved my sleep, and I’m sure the butter does too. I’m sure that better sleep improves health. Neither the pork fat or butter has had any clear effect on my blood pressure, which I measure. Probably has improved my blood sugar, to the extent that it has replaced carbohydrates. I haven’t yet had a circulatory system scan but I will. Because the whole body must be optimized to work best with the same diet, I believe that the diet that is best for the brain will turn out to be best for the rest of the body, including the heart. I don’t think that all the evidence is in, but from what I know so far I believe the butter is healthy — with clear benefits on the brain and sleep and no clear costs.

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