Prisons go vegetarian to save money, but why are there so many prisoners in the first place?
Vegan is the new… what? News has developed of prisons turning to vegan and vegetarian meals to feed their inmates, and if you think that this topic is rich with nuance, you’re correct. It’s news that is both good, bad, and mostly somewhere in between.
First, the facts. Pam Anderson and PETA have been running campaigns for some time now encouraging prison systems to ditch the meat and dairy and go vegan. In April 2015, a jail in Arizona went vegetarian, and the numbers were staggering in terms of money saved. $200,000 were saved by spending money on meatless food, and the program has been deemed a huge success. With these numbers in mind, Anderson and PETA are pushing the Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, to switch the entire state system onto a plant based diet. There would be an estimated $620,000 saved annually, according to PETA, if the switch was made, and Anderson has volunteered to go in and serve inmates herself. The state of Louisiana is facing a $940 million deficit, and money saved would go towards a hurting state economy.
So, in what way can this improve the quality of life for prisoners? A vegan diet is far more healthy than the Standard American Diet, and with an American prison system that does little for the health of its inmates, this can be seen as a step forward. According to True Activist via Care2, “Victor Valley medium Community Correction Facility in Adelanto, California was allowing inmates the opportunity to choose vegan meals under a program called NewStart. In addition to the plant-based cuisine, the program also offered Bible study, job training, and anger management. Reportedly, aggressive behavior among the convicted individuals decreased substantially, and recidivism rate (rate of re-arrest) also dropped to 2%. The state average in California is over 90%.” It’s worth noting that as excellent as those numbers are, they cannot be fully attributed to veganism, as there were many other components to the program and vegan food was just an option. Nonetheless, Veganism is a lifestyle of nonviolence, and could absolutely inspire inmates to make positive life changes upon release. The Dutch Ministry of Justice backs up claims that healthy inmates are more peaceful, as a study in which inmates were given vitamin supplements showed a drastic drop in violent behavior. A vegan diet could only improve upon nutrition.
Of course, it goes without saying that veganism is far more environmentally friendly and a direct path to animal liberation from exploitation.
So, it all adds up that inmates could benefit from vegan food, but let’s examine the issue from all sides. First, why the fuck are so many people in prison in the first place, and why are there so many mouths to feed?! Oh, right, that pesky little prison industrial complex! For-profit prisons make money off of keeping people, mostly poor and black men, incarcerated for as long as possible, and often the crimes committed are matched with a ridiculous sentence. While a vegan diet for the inmates would be fantastic, let’s not pretend that for the State of Louisiana, this wouldn’t be all about numbers. I have a hard time believing that the fat cats sitting on top of the prison system would see their prisoners eating vegan and think to themselves a single blessed ethical thought. The prison industrial complex blows, and minor life improvement is coming from the thought of lined pockets, not improved lives. Some folks would also argue that eating meat is a right, and that the state would be taking a right away from prisoners. Personally, I can’t say I feel that way, but considering how poorly inmates are treated, I think it’s absolutely a point worth discussing with constructive, compassionate debate. Also, Louisiana is a death penalty state, so can someone please explain to me in what world we can call their prison system “ethical?” Even if they go vegan, that world simply doesn’t exist.
Anderson was pictured with Joe Arpaio, the infamously racist Arizona sheriff. They were pictured serving a plant based lunch together to inmates in Phoenix. Maybe it’s just me, but when promoting veganism as a human right, I’m not entirely sure I’d want to associate my ideas with a dude who forced women to sleep in their own menstrual blood, pushes for aggressive racial profiling, and beat a Latina woman who was five months pregnant. Call me old-fashioned, but he gives me the jitters, and something tells me he’s excited to save a little more cash while abusing human lives.
So, vegan prisons. The good is that veganism is fantastic, the not-so-good is that it’s undoubtedly a way for prisons to make money, and at the very worst, the entire prison industrial complex is out of control. I wish this wasn’t even a conversation to have in the first place just as I wish the prison system had never become so powerful, but until our world is fair and just for both human and non-human animals, it’s a conversation we’ll be having.