In a surprising move, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has cut all pork products from the menus served in federal prisons nationwide. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has praised the move, but the Bureau of Prisons denies that the decision had anything to do with Muslim dietary restrictions.
The Bureau of Prisons runs 122 facilities that house a collective total of over 200,000 inmates, and they are all fed the same menu of three square meals a day. The menu is revised from time to time, and the most recent change went into effect last week in conjunction with the new fiscal year.
Cutting pork falls in line with the Muslim dietary restriction that forbids the consumption of pork.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Qur’an prohibits the consumption of pork and alcohol and requires Muslims to be careful about how their food is prepared. Foods that meet these standards are referred to as halal, which means permissible.
When news of the federal government cutting pork from prison menus surfaced, CAIR praised the decision on social media.
— CAIR National (@CAIRNational) October 9, 2015
It only makes sense that CAIR would support removing pork from prison menus, or all menus for that matter, but some blamed President Obama for moving to cut pork specifically to appease Muslims.
Obama bans pork in Fed Prisons to please Muslims. I did not know that we elected a president to manage prison menus. pic.twitter.com/ACdD6BfaPh
— Freedom Fighter (@USFree4life) October 11, 2015
If Muslims can get pork banned in prison, only a matter of time before they try the same in schools and stores https://t.co/j9ta6FeJrM
— Roger Peck (@rogpeck2002) October 11, 2015
CAIR responded by suggesting that conservatives believe there was a “Muslim conspiracy” to cut pork from federal prison menus.
— CAIR National (@CAIRNational) October 12, 2015
Prior to the menu change, the dietary needs of religious prisoners were already taken into account.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram spoke to Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, on the subject.
“It was really based on the survey of inmate population as well as cost,” Ross said. “Religious meals are accommodated but that does not affect the national menu.”
The Washington Post also spoke to Ross, and he reiterated that Muslim dietary restrictions had nothing to do with the decision.
According to Ross, the bureau did a food preference survey, and it turned out that inmates just don’t like pork.
“Why keep pushing food that people don’t want to eat?” Ross said to the Washington Post. “Pork has been the lowest-rated food by inmates for several years.”
Ross also said that pork has been falling in popularity among inmates for a while, and the previous menu contained only two pork products.
“People are more health conscious these days,” Ross elaborated. “Some people choose to be vegetarian or vegan. That’s their preference.”
The Washington Post also reports that the new menu offers turkey bacon instead of real bacon.
Looking back at the menu for the 2014 fiscal year, pork chops and pork BBQ were both offered as dinner items, but there is no sign of bacon on the breakfast menu.
If those were the only choices offered, then perhaps the Bureau of Prisons’ claims that inmates don’t like pork are true in that very narrow sense.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram spoke to Dave Warner, a spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council, and he took issue with the idea that prisoners suddenly stopped liking pork.
“I find it hard to believe that a survey would have found a majority of any population saying, ‘No thanks, I don’t want any bacon,'” Warner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Warner also contested the idea that the decision to cut pork from prison menus had anything to do with cost.
“I’m not sure cost would really be an issue,” Warner told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. “Sausage is one of the commodities USDA buys. I know they buy a lot of that for the school lunch program and pork crumbles are used on pizza. The USDA is getting a good product at a very good price.”
A menu for the 2015 fiscal year was not immediately available, but an inspection of the menu from 2014 shows that sausage was, indeed, offered to prisoners as a hot breakfast choice at that time.
Other prison systems have chosen to eliminate pork explicitly to cater to Muslim and Jewish dietary needs since it’s easier to have just one menu than to have special options for just a few prisoners.
A spokesman for the Tarrant County Jail told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that they made the switch 15 years ago.
“In our contract with respective food vendors we express that there will be no pork products served,” Grisham told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. “Simply, it just makes it easier so we don’t violate any medical or religious diets of any kind.”
Do you believe that the decision to cut pork from federal prison menus had nothing to do with Muslim dietary restrictions or is there something else at work here?
[Photo credit: Joe Gough/Shutterstock]