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Inmate's beef with soy doesn't go down well

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Court reporter Steve Hudak wrote a clever lead on a story that ran on Page A1 Monday: "Lake Correctional Institution inmate Eric Harris has a beef with prison food."

The truth is that Harris wants beef in his prison food. Along with pork. Not to mention chicken. He probably wouldn't turn down a nicely turned leg of lamb, either.

Eric doesn't like the chow at Lake Correctional.

All together now: Awwwww.

The 34-year-old, who has served nearly a decade so far for sexual battery on a child, filed a lawsuit to stop Florida from feeding inmates soy-laden entrees that it labels with lip-smacking names such as "meat loaf" and "Southern BBQ."

Who can blame the prison wardens? Would you walk into a restaurant and order something called "tasty soy loaf?" Yuck. But, on the other hand, you probably haven't raped any little girls lately, have you?

And there is the heart of the matter. When you've committed crimes against the most vulnerable of society's members, the rest of us don't have to meet your finicky dietary desires.

Federal courts in other cases have ruled that prison food has to be "adequate to maintain health" but not necessarily "tasty or aesthetically pleasing." Florida prison officials say their menus exceed the requirements.

State prisons started mixing soy with meals in 2009 to control costs but still keep the level of protein high. And that's the positive side of soy — the little bean is remarkably high in protein. In East Asia, the bean, also called edamame, has been used as a snack and a source of protein for thousands of years.

The prison mixes soy in a 50-50 split with meat to whip up three meals a day for $1.70 per inmate. Total cost? $47.2 million this year. Providing meat meals would double the price to taxpayers, prison officials estimated.

Inmates who don't eat meat can opt for a no-soy, alternate entrée — usually dried beans or peanut butter. Most, however, are sticking with the soy meals. In the prison system's Southern region, which includes Central Florida, soy meals are consumed by 86 percent of the prisoners for breakfast, 88 percent for lunch and 89 percent for dinners in offerings such sloppy joes and "meaty macaroni."

Here's a suggestion for avoiding soy meals: Don't molest children.

But there's always a crank lurking somewhere. And this one is in the form of the Weston A. Price Foundation in Washington, D.C., which describes itself as a leading voice on the dangers of soy foods.

The foundation claims soy foods increase the body's need for certain vitamins, "have the potential" to "lead to" breast cancer and infertility, can cause thyroid cancer, reduce the ability of the body to absorb necessary nutrients and can cause pancreatic disorders.

It recommends that people eat more meat, animal organs, eggs, milk, lard, butter, tallow and other animal fats. Yes! Finally! People like me, who recognize sour cream as a food group!

Uh-oh. There's gonna be an epic battle in my doc's office when I waltz in and proclaim that extra sharp cheddar is part of a diet that is going to lower my cholesterol.

The foundation paid the filing fee for Harris' lawsuit against Lake Correctional. His complaints in the suit seem less scientific than the Price foundation's website claims. In fact, Harris has only a single complaint of something bad that already has happened to him because of his soy ingestion. His other worries are about things that he says could happen but haven't yet.

His complaint? Painful gastrointestinal cramping. Translation: Eric ate beans and got gas.

What a hoot. Those guys behind bars are more bored than ever lately with important issues such as soy.

Of course, Harris also wants some unspecified amount of cash for this cruel and unusual punishment. And the case wouldn't be filed in circuit court if the amount were under $15,000.

Harris twice has filed his soy complaint in a federal court in Florida, and it was thrown out twice, most recently last week.

Let's hope the judge in Leon County, where Harris' remaining suit is filed, gets with the program and tosses this one as well.

Lritchie@tribune.com Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laurenonlake.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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