When you read about the execution of an inmate on death row you are often informed about whether they had a last meal, and if so, what they had. A common misconception is that condemned inmates are entitled to a last meal of their choice, it is not a rule but rather a long-standing tradition.
The tradition has a religion background, that is why many people picture da Vinci's famous painting of Christ breaking bread with his disciples. In medieval Europe it was also that the condemned would not be able to come back as a spirit if they were well fed.
Even now in the U.S., traditions related to executing condemned inmates differs from state to state. They no longer offer a special last meal in Texas (which has executed more prisoners than any other state), but in Florida they offer inmates whatever they want on a $40 budget. There are several states that fall in between, Oklahoma only allows inmates a $15 budget.
In Louisiana, a state with deep religious traditions, Warden Burl Cain always invites inmates sentenced to die to eat their last meal with him and a number of other invited guests. It is not in an attempt to mock the condemned, but instead to offer them Christian fellowship much like Jesus invited Judas to the last supper.
Cain still does his duty as warden and oversees all executions in his prison. He knows that these men and women are being put to death by him command, but he still sends the invitation because it is the right thing to do. Whether the inmate accepts that invitation is completely up to them.
Inmates who used to face the firing squad were always offered a drink of alcohol and the traditional last cigarette. This was a two fold gesture, it showed empathy towards those about to die, and it also calmed the nerves of the people staring towards their executioners.
There are split opinions on the tradition of the last meal. Some think of it as a chance to show empathy towards those about to die. Others think that people sentenced to be executed don't deserve any compassion, let alone a final meal.
The inmates look at it from several ways as well. A last chance to try something new or something to look forward to as they listen to the hands on the clock tick towards their last moments. Some even see it as an act of defiance against those who have stricken away their right to life.
What would you order if you knew it would be your last meal on this earth?