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Inmate went on hunger strike in 1987 to obtain a vegan diet

By Michael McHugh

A prisoner went on hunger strike to secure a vegan diet in Northern Ireland.

The man was an inmate at HMP Belfast on the Crumlin Road and the year was 1987.

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) folder showed that an inmate wanted to secure a more balanced vegan diet.

The principal medical officer in December 1987, MC Dickson, wrote: "In the past, when (name redacted) was previously a prisoner in both Maze and Magilligan, his constant demand was for raw vegetables.

"I can do no better than refer you to comments made on file by the late Dr Ross that Man is not a ruminant and thereby does not have the physical capacity in his stomach to break down the cellulose wall of the vegetables and thereby release the nutritious elements present.

"Rightly or wrongly, I feel prisoners, or indeed anyone else for that matter, should clearly understand that diets taken to extremes can have consequences which are not immediately predictable or controllable."

He compared it to hunger striking prisoners, when inmates were warned of the possible consequences for their health.

"In the context of a prison environment, why should vegetarianism be treated any differently, bearing in mind the potential consequences?

"We cannot predict what deficiency states or when they will arise or indeed if they will arise."

He said he could not agree to additionally providing vitamin supplements on a "guestimate" basis. "I think we would be in very grave danger of providing any other reason for going on a vegetarian diet, namely that they would also get added vitamins."

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