BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has introduced legislation ensuring that Californians confined to prisons and hospitals who prefer not to eat meat have access to plant-based meals.
Senate Bill 1138, if passed, would require that prisons, hospitals and nursing homes have at least one plant-based meal option available - although they would not be required to develop extensive new menus.
Currently there are about 129,000 inmates in 35 prisons around the state that have to be fed daily. While most inmates get the same meals, some 12,000 inmates already get special meals.
Bill Sessi with the California Department of Corrections said prisons currently offer some options.
"Meals for people with religious preferences whether it's Kosher, Islamic or vegetarian," Sessi said. "We have many options, but most of our inmates get a standard diet."
California prisons have never been known for their cuisine, but they may soon be required to add vegan meals to the jailhouse menu.
Skinner said, "We want to make sure that you are not prevented from being able to exercise that choice which you would have in any other setting."
In addition to prisons, the law would require care facilities and hospitals to offer the option of meat-free, fish-free and dairy-free meals as well.
"We recognize human rights are for everyone whether they are incarcerated or not," said Skinner.
Increasing the availability of vegetable-based dietary options would also help the state meet water conservation goals, as tofu and foods like pasta require less water to produce than meat.
"Offering plant based meal options is a great way to give people healthy choices and reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions," Skinner said. "But most importantly, I want to make sure we're being fair and giving those in institutional settings food options that meet their individual needs."
So far no one has come out against the vegan requirement and it has sailed through its first committee hearing with a unanimous vote.
Skinner said she hasn't yet heard any arguments against it.
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