OTTAWA — Actress Pamela Anderson is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take meat and milk off prison menus to help the planet and the health of federal inmates — and save taxpayers some cash, to boot.
The former “Baywatch” star makes the pitch in a letter to Trudeau part of her work with the animal-rights group PETA, writing that she hopes Canada embraces what she calls a “simple but effective way to reduce costs and improve lives.”
She wants Canada’s federal penitentiaries to serve vegan meals of beans, rice, lentils, pasta, vegetables and fruits, which she bills as sources of all the nutrients one would need, “at a fraction of the cost of meats and cheeses,” since most vegan ingredients don’t need to be refrigerated.
In its most recent departmental plan, Correctional Service Canada says it provides nutrition “sufficient in quality and quantity” and in line with the Canada Food Guide.
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Anderson says the newly retooled food guide put less of an emphasis on eating meat and dairy, instead suggesting more plant-based proteins in Canadians’ diets.
Her letter also points out a UN climate panel report calling for a dietary shift to help combat climate change — another interest for the actress who backed the Greens and their leader Elizabeth May in the just-concluded federal election.
Watch: Pamela Anderson argues with Meghan McCain over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Story continues below.
Four years ago, Anderson travelled to Arizona to serve vegetarian meals to the approximately 8,000 inmates at the Maricopa County Jail alongside Joe Arpaio, the controversial local sheriff who made the decision. Arpaio estimated the move would save US$100,000 a year.
CBC reports that the meals consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, as well as vegetarian dishes. Prisoners can snack on oranges or crackers.
The man who Anderson partnered with was infamous for how he treated prisoners. Arpaio’s 23-year tenure as “America’s toughest sheriff” was underscored by numerous high-profile allegations of inmate mistreatment, abuse, and neglect, earning him condemnation from Amnesty International. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation found him responsible for racist policing practices towards Latinos. Arapio was found guilty of criminal contempt in 2017, but was pardoned by U.S. president Donald Trump a month later.
His control over what inmates ate has been noted for being cruel; in his infamous “tent jails,” some prisoners had no choice but to subsist on only peanut butter, baloney, bread, and a brown sludgy stew that “tasted like cardboard.”
While the sheriff and Anderson were big fans of the plant-based menu, the prisoners eating the mandatory diet weren’t happy.
“It is either green slop, red slop, or yellow slop, with a couple disgusting veggies and grapefruit or orange every night,” former inmate Adam Reeg told Arizona Sonara News. “I can’t express enough how awful the food is … I didn’t eat dinner for two weeks. I lost 15 pounds, then started eating dinner because I was starving.”
At Maricopa County Jail, prisoners are only fed twice a day. To protest reports of inadequately nutritious meals, a three-day hunger strike was held in 2017.
In her letter, Anderson does not mention the reports of mistreatment or prisoner dissatisfaction with their vegetarian meals. She writes the jail reduced costs by $273,000 when it switched to vegetarian meals, although reported savings vary widely.
She says the savings could be even higher for Canada’s almost 40,000 inmates — a number that includes inmates in provincial jails, which fall outside federal jurisdiction.
A report in May from Statistics Canada said that in the fiscal year 2017-18, there were on average 24,657 adult inmates in provincial or territorial jails, while the federal portion was 14,129.
Anderson’s letter was met with skepticism online, with some wondering whether a mandatory vegan diet was the right approach.
She ended her note to Trudeau with an offer to help design the prison menu.
“My friends at PETA and I would be happy to work with your team to create a low-cost meal plan for your correctional facilities,” she wrote.
When it comes to the food in Canada’s correctional facilities, the federal watchdog is more concerned with ongoing issues with food quality.
Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger listed problems with making sure inmates ate healthy, quality meals prepared in clean food prep spaces in a federal audit published in January.
Zinger does not share Anderson’s worry about the cost these meals have for taxpayers, instead stating that he does not think the current meal cost per inmate is inadequate.
“One wonders how such a low per diem can provide adequate nutritional food,” he wrote in his report.
At time of publication, Trudeau had yet to comment on Anderson’s letter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2019.
With files from Al Donato