A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections confirmed Monday that Florida will again provide inmates with kosher meals after five years without the option, according to the Associated Press.
According to AP, the change comes five months after the federal government filed a lawsuit contending that the state forced some inmates to violate their core religious beliefs by denying them kosher meals.
Kosher refers to a certain set of laws that dictates what is and is not OK to eat, said Rabbi Swedroe with the University of Florida Hillel. The laws, which some Jewish people choose to follow, are also referred to as kashrut.
Swedroe said for some prisoners, keeping kosher is a way of connecting to the religion and a means of receiving support when removed from the larger society.
“For inmates who keep kosher, this is the only type of food that they would be able to eat,” said Swedroe, who keeps kosher. ”It’s not a preference if somebody doesn’t like certain types of food or anything like that, but for many of these inmates it’s … that they are forbidden from eating other types of food.”
The practice of serving kosher meals temporarily ended in 2007. Instead, pork products were no longer used, and those with religious diets were encouraged to eat vegetarian or vegan meals. Correction officials cited cost and said satisfying some religious preferences and not others would be unfair, according to the AP.
Swedroe said there are different levels of keeping kosher and eating vegetarian or vegan meals may not suffice.
“It would avoid eating types of meat that have not been slaughtered properly or certain types of meats that are forbidden according to the laws of kashrut,” she said. ”However, there are other rules that come into play with keeping kosher that wouldn’t be met by eating only vegetarian or only eating vegan food.”
She said although all vegetables are considered kosher, bugs are not, and the preparation of certain produce may not suffice. She also said there are rules that dictate that a Jewish person be involved in the cooking process for certain foods.
Swedroe said just because a person committed a crime, that does not mean his or her belief system should be completely dismissed.
“Food is such a basic element and something that we all need to survive,” she said. “I think that by providing food that people feel comfortable eating – that people don’t feel like they’re disobeying God in some way — can be a really wonderful step in the right direction toward living better lives.”