The federal government abruptly stops serving pork to 206,000 prisoners was not exactly the best news to receive at the beginning of National Pork Month. According to the Bureau of Prisons, the agency decided to ban all pork products from 122 federal penitentiaries at the beginning of the new fiscal year, which started on October 1.
Still, the reason to keep cuts of pork, including bacon off the menu was not fully explained. Surely, there was the ‘rest of the story’ yet to be exposed. Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, told media outlets that the decision was based on the annual survey of prisoners and pork lost it appeal with inmates several years ago. However, I like many in the U.S. pork industry have a hard time believing 206,000 inmates said “NO” to bacon.
It is also hard to swallow that the federal government would not support an industry that contributes $39 billion to the gross domestic product, brings 547,800 jobs and $22.3 billion in personal incomes to the United States.
After the National Pork Producers Council brought light to the situation, members of Congress asked the Bureau of Prisons for the real logic behind the decisions. In defense, the Bureau admitted the decision was also based on the growing cost of pork.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) did not take the ban on pork lightly. In a letter to Bureau of Prisons director Charles E. Samuels, Jr., he wrote “The United States is the world’s largest exporter of pork, and the third largest producer of pork,” Grassley wrote, warning that the “unprecedented” decision to remove pork from federal prisons would “have consequences on the livelihoods of American citizens who work in the pork industry.”
More importantly, Grassley demanded the Bureau to release the copies of the prisoners’ surveys and the economic evaluation the Bureau relied on to determine pork is more expensive that beef, chicken and other protein sources. He is asking the agency to prove it made a sound decision on actual facts and economics.
Grassley, like the rest of pork producers, are scratching their heads and reasonable so asking “why”. Pork can provide excellent nutrition in affordable price in a low calorie package. Realizing, in 2014 pork prices was a record year, but beef prices have also skyrocketing. In addition, pork has come down as the supply has rebounded. Any proper economic study on food prices would have revealed that pork prices are more than affordable.
Let us be realistic. Prison is not supposed to be a place for fine dining and certain rights are taking away. Perhaps substituting tofu for bacon is a penalty by itself. For me, it would be cruel and unusual punishment.
All jokes aside, this unprecedented decision is a real concern. The goal should be to provide nutritious, balanced meals to inmates. Animal proteins keep you full longer. The last thing we need is hunger pains to fuel aggression behind bars. So if you just compare the protein in tofu to beef or pork, you will find it takes more calories of tofu to reach the same level of protein. For 25 grams of protein, it takes 1 -1/4 cups (10 ounces) of tofu at 236 calories or 3 ounces of beef or pork at 140-180 calories, depending on the cut of meat. This comparison does not even mention all the other key nutrients available in pork. The Bureau claimed prisoners are more focus on health and daily calories. You be the judge calorie for calorie.
So, after the NPPC raised the issue to the public light, the Bureau did announce this week that pork loin is back on the menu in federal prisons. In spite of this, the choice not to serve pork by a federal government sets a “dangerous precedent” - a stamp of disapproval for pork and conceivably a message that it does not support the U.S. pork industry.