Prisoners and Plant-Based Meals – Continuing Inroads Made for Vegan Meals in Public Institutions

By Emilio Gironda, VRG Volunteer Coordinator

As of January 1, 2019 the California Health and Safety Code requires all licensed health facilities to “make available wholesome, plant-based meals of such variety as to meet the needs of patients in accordance with their physicians’ orders.” Also as of January 1, 2019 the California Penal Code mandates prisons provide “ food of such variety as may be most conducive to good health and that shall include the availability of plant-based meals…on an overall cost-neutral basis.” Both statutes define vegan/plant-based meals as “…entire meals that contain no animal products or byproducts, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or eggs.”

The last major cases before the US Supreme Court concerning prisoner rights were Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014 and Holt v. Hobbes in 2015. Following in the shadow of those two cases, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York) in Williams v. Annucci from 2018 remanded a case back to the lower court because the burden placed on the State to provide for the prisoner’s religious dietary restrictions, which consisted partly of a vegetarian diet, was not met. The case went on to settle. Interestingly, the court expressed disappointment with New York State’s stalling the case for 7 years while the prisoner was “forced to cobble together sufficient food to eat while adhering to his protected religious diet.” 

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