Inside CDCR Video, Prison Health Care

New healthy food option put to the test

A man wearing a tan correctional uniform and a hairnet scoops eggs and gravy onto a plate for a man in a light blue buttondown shirt.
CDCR executives were treated to a sneak preview of the new veggie protein offered in institution kitchens.

Executives try new pea protein

The selection of nutritious food options is increasing throughout California prisons. CDCR is introducing a new plant-based protein aimed to keep hearts healthy.

To put the stamp of approval on the new Pea Protein, CDCR and CCHCS gathered for a taste test. Lance Eshelman, Departmental Food Administrator, and Lauren Barnak, Statewide Chief of Dietary Services, introduced the new healthy option. It came in the form of breakfast burritos, potatoes, gravy and other dishes featuring the tasty protein. It will be an option in CDCR institution dining halls starting in April 2023. The Plant-Based Protein Crumbles are a product of the California Prison Industry Authority.

(Learn more about CALPIA.)

“Increasing your intake of plant-based foods can help prevent or reverse the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” Barnak shared. Even if not at risk for those conditions, protein is an important part of any diet. It helps to maintain muscle, support immune systems, and promote overall healthy brain and body function.

Execs praise healthy food options

Reactions were positive around the break room at CDCR Headquarters. Dr. Joseph Bick, Director of Health Care Services, said he appreciated the healthy benefits of the plant-based protein. He also appreciated the enthusiasm with which department leaders accepted the invitation to try it.

“If I were incarcerated I can’t think of too many things that are more important to me than food, and maybe my mattress,” Bick said. “I think it’s really important that we are trying out the various food items we’re considering having the population eat.”

Dr. Bick and other executives shared the protein is tasty, has a meaty texture, and is quite versatile. This was evidenced by the many selections of breakfast food served.

The plant-based protein crumbles are vegetarian friendly and halal certified for incarcerated people with religious meat alternative diets. It is also certified kosher.

“As a physician I would say legume protein is healthier for you than some of the other types of protein that we put into our diet,” Bick said. He added many convenience foods are full of calories and fat that can lead to many unhealthy outcomes.

“It’s important to not be obsessive about it, but to try to spend a little bit of time thinking about what it is that we put into our bodies,” he said. “I’m really encouraged to see the department taking an effort to move forward and improve the health and the diet for our population.”

Video by Rob Stewart, TV Specialist, Office of Public and Employee Communications

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