First the bad news then some good news then some middling, reality check observations.
It seems that a prisoner in Texas wishes to eat a vegan diet but the prison system will not let him. Texas currently offers only a “meatless option,” which includes dairy and eggs. The prisoner has sued under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (more about the statute here), to force the prison to respect his dietary wishes.
Prior to the lawsuit, the state based its refusal to provide a vegan diet on the expense involved (once again raising the bizarre reality that eating animals that eat vegetables is less expensive than eating the vegetables themselves). However, in responding to the lawsuit, Texas now intends to present expert testimony from a prison dietitian who “will opine that a long-term, strict vegan diet is likely to lead to the development of nutritional deficiencies and significant health problems for most people.” Yes, that’s right, sports fans: vegan prisoners are starving themselves and need meat and/or dairy to survive.
Putting aside the gigantic irony embedded in the fact that Texas’ concern for the health of its prisoner population is apparently second only to its desire to kill them, one has to wonder how it is that in this day and age, someone (much less a state) could still be so ignorant of basic nutrition.
Now for the good news. I learned about this case because my colleague, Michael Mushlin, a renowned and tireless worker on behalf of prisoners’ rights, brought it to my attention. He learned about it from a prisoners’ rights listserv. And the post asking for advice on potential experts to counter Texas’ position quickly generated some excellent responses. It thus seems likely that when this would-be vegan has his day in court, he will have some strong expert testimony with which to refute his jailer’s ignorance. So, it’s good news that there is a group of dedicated attorneys working on behalf of prisoners and it’s further good news that some of them are very knowledgeable about veganism. It’s also good news that there exists a cadre of experts out there (including but not limited to these) that provide an excellent resource for pushing back the forces of dietary ignorance wherever they lurk and hide.
Now the reality check: no matter how much progress has been made introducing veganism into mainstream consciousness, ubiquitous redoubts of ignorance remain. For better or for worse, this work is really just starting.
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal law, diet, Uncategorized | Tagged: animal advocacy, animal law, diet, Michael Mushlin, prisoner's rights, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, RLUIPA, Texas, Texas prisons, vegan, veganism |