Belfast jail inmate staged hunger strike to demand vegan diet, records show

Belfast jail inmate staged hunger strike to demand vegan diet, records show

A prisoner went on hunger strike to secure a vegan diet in Northern Ireland, official files have revealed.

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

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) folder disclosed by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (Proni) showed that an inmate wanted to secure a more balanced vegan diet.

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


โ€œI 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.

โ€œRightly 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.โ€

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?


โ€œWe cannot predict what deficiency states or when they will arise or indeed if they will arise.โ€

He said he could not agree to additionally providing vitamin supplements on a โ€œguestimateโ€ basis for what the authorities thought may happen.

โ€œAs we know, prisoners have got obsessions about their health; for example, fitness training, multiplicity of complaints etc.

โ€œI 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.โ€


Elsewhere in the archives, the director of the Forensic Science Laboratory was asked for his opinion on the โ€œpotential misuseโ€ of bananas in 1990.

An official paper on his comments said: โ€œIn his reply, he takes the view that any claims regarding the psychedelic properties of smoking dried banana skins are psychological rather than real.

In fact, in a further discussion, he said that there are more known psycho-active materials present in tea or coffee compounds than in banana skins.

โ€œIn these circumstances we have no security objections to the introduction of bananas into the prison diet.โ€