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Last meals are a resilient ritual accompanying executions in the United States. Yet states vary considerably in the ways they administer last meals. This paper explores the recent decision in Texas to abolish the tradition altogether. It seeks to understand, through consultation of historical and contemporary sources, what the ritual signifies. We then go on to analyze execution procedures in all 35 of the states that allowed executions in 2010, and show that last meal allowances are paradoxically at their most expansive in states traditionally associated with high rates of capital punishment (Texas now being the exception to that rule.) We conclude with a discussion of the implications of last meal policies, their connections to state cultures, and the role that the last meal ritual continues to play in contemporary execution procedures.


With Sabrina Atkins and Andrew Davies