All right, here's the low-down. My sister is the kitchen manager at the men's maximum security state prison in AK, resident population 500+. This morning, I fired off the following questions at her:
Is there a prison policy about dietary restrictions or preferences? I mean, Muslims and Jews have pretty strict beliefs about what they’ll eat. Halal meats and so on, and I wonder how far the prison kitchen would go to meet those dietary preferences. Obviously, if a prisoner has a medical condition or an allergy against something, the prison kitchen probably can take measures to avoid certain foods. But what about a prisoner who insists on eating vegan?? Would the prison kitchen go that far to accommodate him?
Her reply, verbatim:
Yes, yes and yes. We serve no pork of any kind in the facility so that meets both the Jewish & Muslim requirements. We don’t have any Orthodox Jews so we don’t go any farther with that. We have far more Muslims simply because many more of the black population practices that. We have a “special diet” cook position in the kitchen and that’s the hardest job in the kitchen because the inmate has to 1) know how to cook and 2) improvise & make his own recipes to accommodate all the diets; we have 1800 calorie diet, Low Fat/Low Salt diet, anti-allergen diets (individual allergies per person) sometimes simple like can’t have eggs or fish, some are more more restrictive like they can’t have wheat, dairy, or peanuts. They’re hard to do. Renal diets (kidney disease). Vegan AND vegetarian. And yes we have to provide special meals during the month long Ramadan for Muslims; big pain in the butt that one is: periods of fasting followed by double portions after sunset. But this is America so we have to accommodate everyone. Biggest challenge is that we also have 1) a very tight budget, I think it’s about $1.80 per meal, and very basic nutrition & calorie requirements must be met. Holidays are ALWAYS a BIG deal because they get things they don’t get for regular meals; fried chicken, ice cream, cheese burgers, cinnamon rolls and the like. Everything (except ice cream) is made from scratch every day, all breads, beans, BBQ sauce, you name it, all made from scratch. It’s a big operation. Also serving 500+ meals more or less simultaneously is big part of the challenge; not 500 meals over the course of an evening like a big restaurant. We can save some costs by locally produced vegetables from inmate farms up in the valley . . . and we get salmon from the cannery here in Seward and other places in Alaska where minimum security inmates can work in seafood processing. The “for profit” prisons in the lower 48 do none of this. Prisoners from places like that love our food -they tell me they get 1 bologna sandwich every single day for lunch no variation 365 days a year and 2 baloney sandwiches for “brunch” on weekends.
We vary all our meals on 5 week cycles. Because of the way the state government holiday calendar is set up I’m going to be running the kitchen EVERY holiday up to Thanksgiving & Christmas. 😬😬😬😬😬😬😬😬😬
Holiday meals are both fun AND stressful.
Well, blow me down, I done lernt sumpin' today: you get better food, and more selection, in the AK state prison system than on a first-class ticket with Lufthansa. Al B. Jiggered !