Long a staple of dorm room life as well as a favorite stockpile item, ramen noodles have become a trading commodity at American prisons.
According to a recent study by Michael Gibson-Light, a University of Arizona School of Sociology PhD candidate, the instant soup and noodle product is a valuable bartering tool for inmates for other food items, as well as clothing, personal hygiene products and services.
Frequently maligned for their high sodium content, ramen noodles now come in lower sodium versions and even organic versions.
“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,” Gibson-Light said in a news release.
For his research on how inmates are handling declining prison services, Gibson-Light interviewed staff members and male prisoners in an unnamed penitentiary. He reports that “soups,” as ramen noodles are called in prison, have replaced tobacco as the preferred currency for inmates and that prisoners even use “soups” as bargaining chips during card games.
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It is easy to see why. The ubiquitous soup product that features hot broth and noodles has a long shelf life and can be eaten “as-is” after mixing with hot water or as the base for other meals.
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Retailing for around 30 cents per three-ounce serving when purchased in bulk packs, ramen noodles are tasty and inexpensive, and they have up to a 10-year shelf life when stored in a cool, dry location. For many survivalists, ramen noodles are a stockpile staple.
Instant ramen was invented in 1958 by Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese/Japanese entrepreneur, and is now a multibillion-dollar global industry. The word “ramen” is probably derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese for “lo mein,” which is also a boiled noodle dish.
The Maruchan Company, founded in 1953 by Japanese businessman Kazuo Mori, is the largest producer of instant ramen products. Since 1977 when it opened its first manufacturing plant in Irvine, Calif., Maruchan has produced its products in the United States.
“Maruchan” is a Japanese compound word that loosely translates to mean the round, happy face of a child. The Maruchan website says that it produces 3.6 billion packages of the popular noodle soup each year and boasts that if all those noodles were lined up end to end, they would reach from earth to Mars and back again.
The Chinese consume about 46 billion packets of ramen a year, making them the world’s largest consumers of the product, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.
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