Recent news buzzed about how Jake Angeli, the Capitol attack suspect known as the “QAnon Shaman,” would receive a court-ordered diet of organic food to suit his “religious” and health needs while in federal custody in Arizona.
There is something very wrong with this picture. A white extremist who helped lead an insurrection against the United States demands special treatment, and his request is immediately fulfilled by a judge, even though there is no known religion that requires an organic diet. Meanwhile, millions of disproportionately Black, brown, and other people of color are subject to dehumanizing and unhealthy food in prisons and jails every day. It is impossible to ignore the blatant racial disparity and white privilege involved in this.
Impact Justice’s recent report Eating Behind Bars: Ending the Hidden Punishment of Food in Prison details the profound consequences of the typical prison diet on physical and mental health, with deleterious effects that ripple out beyond the individual to impact families, communities, and society as a whole. Incarcerated people are typically fed meals low in essential nutrients and loaded with salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrates—a diet proven to cause heart attacks, diabetes, and hypertension, to name just a few diseases. Unsurprisingly, almost one in ten people incarcerated in the U.S. have heart disease, about the same number have diabetes, and almost one-third have hypertension.
While Angeli is treated to organic, specially prepared meals as he awaits trial for illegally and violently storming the Capitol, in most of the nation’s prisons and jails, food that is unhealthy, often unsafe, and frequently too disgusting to eat is killing people from the inside out. Rather than focusing on Angeli’s extreme white privilege, this incident should illuminate the millions of currently and formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their communities who are impacted by an unjust food system with punishing effects that last long beyond the time a sentence is served. Our prison food system is the product of human design and it is within our power to change it.