This Bar is for Girls

Sometime in 2001 the Luna® bar appeared as a dessert item in the chow hall at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. The wrappers of these protein bars were decorated with silhouettes of women dancing in the moonlight, and emblazoned with the Luna bar motto "The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women." At first, some of the guys wouldn't touch them.

"Eat those things and you'll grow breasts," one inmate told me.

A close reading of the list of ingredients revealed nothing likely to affect testosterone levels. I didn't think this was a plot to get us in touch with our feminine side. Still, it made me wonder why someone would decide to add a food item "designed to meet many of the specific requirements of active women" to the menu of a men's prison. Eliminating hormonal manipulation as the reason, I was left with three hypotheses.

The most obvious possibility was cost. Perhaps they got a good deal on Luna bars. The total number of inmates in New Hampshire had topped 2500 and was increasing by about 100 per year. Someone's had to be worried about the cost of feeding us. The prison is not above buying bargain-basement items. I've heard a prison legend about an ice-cream truck that lost its refrigeration unit nearby. They say the inmates ate ice-cream for a month, sometimes in large quantities. Maybe Luna bars aren't a marketing success story. Active women shopping for protein bars might just as soon buy a gender-neutral product, or even one marketed to men. The muscular women I've seen in body-builder magazines make me think a women's bar with androgens might even sell. If someone overstocked the whole nutrition bar for women, could it be that the men at the New Hampshire State Prison are the beneficiaries?

I've also considered the possibility that the whole thing is somebody's idea of a joke. Given the choice of buying a protein bar labeled for sale to men or one labeled for women, did some clerk think, "Let's have some fun here?" Inmates, themselves, are not above this kind of humor. There is a single canteen order sheet used at both the men's and women's prisons. It's one of those computer-read forms. To order items, you fill in the dots with a No.2 pencil. I left my form unattended on a table in the pod one day and wound up ordering tampons. I had to explain at the canteen window in front of 20 other inmates why I'd changed my mind. Is someone chuckling somewhere over convicts eating food that claims it "feeds our souls, lifts our spirits, nourishes and sustains us?" One problem with this theory: I think they train prison staff to be humorless at the Department of Corrections' Academy. Interactions between inmates and staff are often like going through the metal detector at an airport. An attempt at a joke can get you strip-searched, or worse.

The theory I favored was that Luna bars were another example of the feminization of the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. In 2002, the Warden was a woman. So was the Administrator of Programs. So was my boss, the Director of Vocational Training. So were my Unit Manager, my Unit Counselor, and the Coordinator of the prison's Sexual Offender Program. It does make a man wonder. I tell myself that if I had listened to my mother, I wouldn't be here under these women's watchful eyes. Luna bars advertise that "Luna is an active sponsor of the Breast Cancer Fund and its efforts to raise hope, awareness and support for all women." Did someone figure that since we have to buy food for these felons, why not exercise a little feminist social conscience at the same time? Who can object to that?

Later that year, Luna bars stopped appearing at the chow hall. They were replaced by The Great North American Slim Down Bar that claims to "fuel your body's fat-burning furnace." I wondered about the significance of the switch and was tempted to launch into another such analysis based upon the expanding girth of inmates, until I noticed the sell-by date on the bar I was eating.  It was over a year out of date.