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Federal Prisoners Soon to Get Vegetarian Menus

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From The Washington Post

Prison food, in all its serving-line glory, is not often mentioned as the highlight of the incarceration experience. Legend holds, however unfairly, that the taste and color of the daily victuals tend toward gray.

Now the kitchens that feed 145,000 federal prisoners will face the challenges of tofu.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has announced it will begin offering a vegetarian diet to inmates. A spokesman attributed the move to “the changing dietary habits of the inmate population.”

In some institutions, a serving line will be dedicated to the vegetarian choices--the fried eggplant, cottage cheese and chickenless chicken a la king. In others, inmates will be required to accept one or the other--flesh or fleshless--as their chosen gastronomic identity.

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“We have, for instance, roast beef. For those who don’t eat flesh, they might have peanut butter,” said Danny M. Williams, food service administrator at the federal prison in Yazoo City, Miss., where 90 prisoners already receive special meals for religious reasons.

“Say, for instance, if we’re serving hamburgers on a Wednesday lunch, and French fries,” Williams explained, “their menu might consist of chopped cabbage, chopped tomatoes, cottage cheese, vegetarian beans and kosher-approved fruit punch.”

In Marion, Ill., Williams’ counterpart sounded enthusiastic as he talked about the changes, even if the variety of choices seems daunting. David Globun said tofu options are tasting better.

“I have some samples right here of some soy-like beef substitute. It’s a dehydrated product,” Globun said. “There’s so many of them out there--I’m trying them to see which ones are good. I have 88 inmates who work in the kitchen. When we cook something, we all sample it, and we share our opinions.”

The Bureau of Prisons was sued in 1997 to provide vegan meals--prepared without animal products of any sort, including meat, fish, eggs or milk. On May 8, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, ruling that prisoner Keith Maydak was likely to win on the merits of his case, granted a temporary injunction requiring the Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison to serve him soy milk.

Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said the new food offerings had no connection to the lawsuit. Bruce G. Friedrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was skeptical, but he was enthusiastic about the outcome-- “that all federal prisoners will have access to cruelty-free, healthy, vegan food at every meal.”

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At the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. in Denver, nutritionist Mary Young chortled at the mention of menu items such as veggie beef stew and veggie meatballs. She called them “the tofu that wants to be beef.”

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