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Ramen replaces tobacco as ‘most valuable commodity’ in US prisons

Ramen noodles have become a more valuable currency in US prisons than tobacco, a study has found.

Noodle soup: The instant noodles have become a valuable prison currency Shutterstock

Noodle soup: The instant noodles have become a valuable prison currency Shutterstock

The instant noodles are a prized commodity in American jails as spending cuts have conflicted with the rising numbers of inmates.

The study, published by Michael Gibson-Light from the University of Arizona, said the shift in commodities is because of a decline in the quantity and quality of food on offer.

“Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods,” said Mr Gibson-Light.

The noodles are exchanged for clothing, other food, toiletries, laundry services, and can even be used as gambling chips.

Mr Gibson-Light added: “Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles – a cheap, durable food product – as a form of money in the underground economy.

“The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change.”

Mr Gibson-Light interviewed 60 inmates over the course of a year.

He found that prisoners, who spend much of their free time exercising, are not getting enough energy from their food to sustain them.

Inmates had meals cut down from three to two per day on weekends and food served was found to be of extremely low quality – some even dangerous to eat.

The noodles have become so valuable in prison life that unpaid Ramen debts are taken very seriously.

One prisoner said: “I’ve seen fights over ramen. People get killed over soup.”

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