A Florida inmate is suing the Department of Corrections, claiming soy-based meals being fed to inmates should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Lake Correctional Institution inmate Eric Harris, 34, claims the processed and blended soy foods being served to inmates have caused him painful gastrointestinal cramping and threaten the health of his thyroid and immune systems, which he says constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported Sunday.
Harris, who is serving a life sentence for sexual battery on a child, contends inmates in Florida prisons are forced to eat a vegan diet, feed themselves with commissary foods, which they must buy with their own money, or eat up to 100 grams of soy protein a day, four times the amount recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Florida prisons began serving soy meals in November 2009. A "meat" mix -- 50 percent soy, 50 percent poultry -- makes up almost 90 percent of most inmates' diets.
"These men are guinea pigs who are being fed high levels of soy," said Kimberly Hartke, a spokeswoman for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, a group that speaks out on the dangers of soy foods. The foundation paid for Harris' lawsuit filed in Circuit Court in Tallahassee.
However, Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said changing the menu in prisons would double the $1.70 it costs to feed each inmate everyday.
"If soy products were eliminated, we conservatively estimate the cost to taxpayers would double for inmate food," she said.
"They would much rather have beef or pork, of course," Plessinger said of inmates. "We are required to provide a nutritional meal, which we do, but we also have to be mindful of taxpayers who are footing the bill."
U.S. courts have concluded in previous cases that prison food need not be "tasty or aesthetically pleasing" but "adequate to maintain health," a standard Florida corrections officials say they exceed.