Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio welcomed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and PETA spokesperson Pamela Anderson on Wednesday to showcase the first all-vegetarian meal in our nation’s jails. Anderson and PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews hold the Sheriff’s Maricopa County Jail System as a model for jails and prisons across the country in regard to serving healthy, cost-effective, meat-free meals to inmates.
“I am proud of our jail system,” said Sheriff Arpaio, “which surely ranks among the best in the nation, and am very gratified that our vegetarian meals are being recognized and lauded by PETA. Those meals, which translate to serving an average of 8300 inmates each day, are both nutritious and well-balanced and lower in cost than you’ll find in any other jail anywhere.”
“I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out,” stated Ms. Anderson, a longtime vegan. “Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”
The Sheriff’s Office has calculated that eliminating meat has saved the county and its taxpayers some $200,000 each year. This does not include other benefits, including reduced electricity costs, not having to tailor a variety of meals to suit different religious convictions and other special requests, and providing healthier meals that don’t spoil as quickly as animal products. The Sheriff had previously cut salt and sugar from the diet for health purposes, as well as coffee and other condiments for cost considerations.
The Sheriff is committed to making better health choices not only for the inmates but also for himself as well as he begins his own vegetarian diet, starting with lunch at Green, a popular downtown vegetarian restaurant, accompanied by Ms. Anderson and Mr. Mathews.
“Sheriff Arpaio’s meat-free jail policy is as bold as his animal cruelty unit,” said Mr. Mathews. “PETA has helped veganize menus at universities, corporations and sports arenas and, with MCSO, a mega-size jail, as an example, will now reach out to jails and prisons.”
“I don’t know why every other jail and prison wouldn’t want to copy what we’ve accomplished here,” said the Sheriff. “It works on every level: financially for the taxpayer, health-wise for the inmate.”
This focus on meatless meals is part of Sheriff Arpaio’s emergence as a driving force in the fight to protect animals, a campaign that has gone beyond the borders of Maricopa County. The Sheriff and PETA have collaborated to defeat so-called “ag gag” bills, the attempt by the food industry to ban undercover cruelty investigations on factory farms, introduced in state legislators. Last month, when legislators in New Mexico and Montana introduced their own “ag gag” bills, Sheriff Arpaio filmed a short video testimony explaining the bill’s negative impact on law enforcement and urging lawmakers to vote no. A week later, the New Mexico bill died in committee, followed by the defeat of the Montana legislation by one vote, with the deciding vote coming from a senator who received Sheriff Arpaio’s video. These bills followed an attempt last year to pass an Arizona “ag gag” law, which Sheriff Arpaio led the charge in defeating. It was in the course of that effort that the Sheriff first worked with PETA, as he and Mr. Mathews hosted a bipartisan news conference at the capitol, during which the Sheriff threatened to sue if the bill passed.
An interesting footnote: The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the federal panel charged with making official dietary suggestions for Americans, just last week recommended a vegan diet for the first time. The committee’s counsel helps the government formulate the recommended daily allowances of nutrients, calories and fat.