Jacob Chansley, more commonly known as the QAnon Shaman, will be eating organic food while in jail waiting for his trial to begin for his involvement with the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6, something that has been criticized from the moment it became known.
Prior to this, Chansley had gone on a hunger strike, claiming non-organic food was against his religion and sickened him. The judge weighing in on the matter decided the accommodation could be made because Chansley had been fed organic food in detention in Arizona, and his arguments about adhering to his Shamanistic beliefs were enough to convince him. This decision is highlighting not only what many feel is another example of white privilege, but also the quality of meals served to inmates.
The report Eating Behind Bars: Ending the Hidden Punishment of Food in Prison explored what food is like in American prison systems, and how it impacts the health and wellbeing of inmates. Of the 500 formerly incarcerated people and family members, roughly 75 per cent said the food served had little to no nutritional value, wasn’t appealing to eat, and wasn’t safe to eat. The report also noted how if a person was in less than optimal health when they entered prison, “the food they consume while incarcerated practically ensures they will leave prison even less healthy, while those who begin their sentence in better shape are likely to deteriorate.”
Reverend Al Sharpton, one of the more high profile critics of the decision, has been arrested and in custody of federal and state facilities over 30 times for protesting injustice. He said some prisons might respect an inmate’s request especially if its a religious-based diet, but sometimes it’s not likely. One example of accommodation based on religion would be providing kosher meals for Jewish prisoners, or halal meals for Muslim prisoners.
The quality of food in Canadian prisons has also been questioned.
In his annual report to Parliament, Dr Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator for the Government of Canada, said spending cuts in 2014 had resulted in a fixed daily food budget of $5.41 per inmate. That report prompted a flood of complaints not only about the quality and selection of the food, but portion sizes as well, particularly for protein. While the cuts saved $6.4 million, it came at the cost of the health and wellbeing of the prisoners.
In order to provide the daily 2,600 calories worth of food for each prisoner, regional production centres were created, where food is prepared, cooked, and chilled in a centralized kitchen. Powdered milk replaced fresh milk, expensive grains were removed, select cuts of meat were replaced with bulky portions, and there was a reduction in the selection of vegetables. Complaints about the quality of meals quickly followed, and which in one instance in 2016 brought about a riot at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert that ended in the death of one person and injury of eight others.
Incarcerated or not, access to good quality, healthy meals, is a right, not a privilege.