Jail-made food a hit in Taiwan

Food items made by prisoners on display as inmates work in the background at a correctional facility in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. The additive-free delicacies made by prison inmates have gained a loyal public following, and generate hundreds of milli
Food items made by prisoners on display as inmates work in the background at a correctional facility in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. The additive-free delicacies made by prison inmates have gained a loyal public following, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TAOYUAN • If it were not for the locked doors, knives chained to the table and uniformed staff, the food factory inside Taoyuan women's prison would resemble any commercial kitchen.

Inmates wearing masks and hair nets mix cocoa powder to make chocolate, or chop cabbage to marinate for kimchi.

They are part of a burgeoning food industry in Taiwan - artisan snacks made behind bars.

The additive-free delicacies made by prison inmates have gained a loyal public following and generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Demand is driven by quality and affordability after a string of food safety scandals has made Taiwan consumers extra vigilant.

WORTH GOING TO JAIL FOR

I've been buying food made by inmates regularly for more than a year. They are organic, good quality and relatively cheap.

BUSINESSWOMAN WANG LUNG-FENG

Last year, sales revenue reached more than NT$500 million (S$22.5 million), with money going towards victim compensation, improvement of facilities and a wage for inmates.

Some prisoners, like 39-year-old Chen, had little culinary experience before joining the production line in Taoyuan, in the north of the island.

"I'm happy to learn some useful skills,"she said. She hopes to open her own small food business after her release.

The range of jail-made food bought from prisons across Taiwan includes local favourites like pineapple cake and peanut brittle, as well as soya sauce and free-range chicken.

What started in 2006 as a smaller programme designed to teach inmates practical skills and raise funds has now been rolled out to all of Taiwan's jails. More than 50 prisons make around 300 products, which can be ordered by the public by phone, online or by fax, or bought directly from prison offices.

Shoppers at a food fair in central Taichung city were quick to vouch for made-in-prison food.

"I've been buying food made by inmates regularly for more than a year. They are organic, good quality and relatively cheap," said businesswoman Wang Lung-feng, who recently drove nearly two hours from southern Tainan city to the food fair.

"I also rally my friends to place orders together. She spent more than NT$10,000 on noodles, chicken, soy sauce and snacks produced by the inmates.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'Jail-made food a hit in Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe