When Luther Hill was sent to prison in 2001, he knew there'd be some lifestyle changes. But he didn't expect his diet to be one of them. "I was surprised by the availability of better, healthier food," says Hill, 42, who is serving time in Idaho for drug possession. So he became a vegan: no animal products in his diet. Luckily for Hill, he's behind bars in Idaho, which boasts the country's most vegan-friendly state prison system, according to a new study by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which receives dozens of complaints each year from inmates about the lack of vegan prison food. PETA examined menus in every state, rating options like tofu cacciatore (Pennsylvania, No. 3) and vegetable fajitas (North Dakota, No. 10).
Vegan cuisine costs about as much as regular fare, according to multinational food provider Aramark, which serves most of PETA's favorite facilities, and it may even save taxpayers money in the long run because it can help reduce the bill for treating inmate health issues like diabetes and obesity. "In a system that encourages inmates to respect themselves, the process carries over to respecting their bodies," says George Little, Tennessee's Corrections Department commissioner. (His state's PETA rank: No. 8.)
Still, victims' rights groups balk at the prospect of convicts' eating better than some law abiders. "The general population isn't privy to nutritious, affordable food, while incarcerated persons are?" asks Janet Fine, director of the Office of Victim Assistance in Massachusetts, a state that, incidentally, PETA ranked No. 2 for its meatless macaroni casserole and veggie chop suey. In Idaho, Hill's fellow convicts are comfortable with his decision to go veggie. "I tell them how much better I feel and how soundly I sleep," he says. Who could have a beef with that?