Vegan option to be offered at California hospitals, prisons

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Health facilities and prisons in California will now be required to serve vegan food options, in line with a recently signed landmark bill penned by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

On Sept. 18, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1138, which states that public institutions that provide food have a “particular responsibility” to provide a diversity of healthy meals, effective Jan. 1, 2019. Under existing law, hospitals and prisons are not specifically mandated to fully provide these plant-based meal options.

“California’s hospitals and prisons house some of the most vulnerable populations who are already at high risk for chronic health conditions,” said Eric Henderson, policy associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in a press release for Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C.

Skinner emphasized that someone may want to consume a plant-based diet for health reasons, religious reasons or environmental reasons and that SB 1138 ensures this.

SB 1138 follows policies previously adopted by the American Medical Association that called upon hospitals to improve the health of patients, staff and visitors by providing a variety of healthy foods, including plant-based meals, according to the text of the bill.

A “health facility,” which is any place that provides health care —  including hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and nursing facilities — will be required to provide meals that meet patient needs as determined by their physicians.

According to the state Senate Floor Analysis of SB 1138, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, will implement these plant-based meals. Meals will soon include food options “acceptable to most religions” and will seek to accommodate those with food sensitivities as well as “ethical dietary beliefs,” according to the bill.

“Most of us have the ability to make our own food, buy our own food — but if we are in a residential facility like a hospital or prison, we don’t have that option,” Skinner said.

SB 1138 amends existing health and safety codes for health care facilities and Penal Code Section 2084 on prison meal and living provisions, which stated that plant-based meals were mostly unavailable to inmates, and vegetarian meals were required only upon request of an inmate with religious, personal or ethical dietary needs. Oftentimes, these meals were not strictly plant-based and contained milk and egg products, according to the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety’s analysis.

The cost of providing vegan food to inmates and patients is still unclear, according to the state Senate Appropriations Committee. Depending on implementation, adding a plant-based option could be less expensive. The CDCR would develop a plan to make plant-based meals available on an “overall cost-neutral basis,” according to the Senate Floor Analysis.

“Whether to protect animals, our climate or our health, those of us who choose to eat a vegan diet can celebrate today with Governor Brown’s signing of SB 1138,” Skinner said in a press release.

Contact Sarah Chung at @sarahchungdc.