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Drama ensued when prisons pulled pork

Bacon, of course, is delicious, but pork tenderloin is a Reese family staple and one of the most-preferred swine products of choice for most get-togethers. In fact, pork tenderloin was the subject of intense hoopla in a recent Reese family culinary showdown.

My dad makes tasty pork tenderloin — there is no point in denying this. He was making delicious pork on the grill long before I fired up my first outdoor propane burner. But, as my generation ages, my brothers and I feel we each have come into our own when making delicious pork tenderloin, surpassing the elder Reese.

In an attempt to settle the ongoing dispute, there was a three-man pork cook-off last summer at the annual family reunion in Mt. Cory (I was not present this year). In the competition, my brothers Aaron and Jeff took on the more experienced, elder Reese. Those in attendance cast votes.

All reports confirm the three entries were indeed delicious and the event was enjoyable for all involved, but it was not without controversy. In terms of actual votes, Jeff won narrowly with slow-smoked pork tenderloin glazed with the juice of fresh peaches.

Dad claimed that his pork was the best and that his vote was the only one that mattered since he taught everyone else how to grill it. Aaron felt his entry was the winner based on the fact that none of his pork was left in a “popular vote” kind of victory. Jeff, however, squealed about that conclusion claiming that Aaron’s slices were cut thicker and his pork disappeared simply due to less supply, not greater demand. And, no matter how you slice it, any final conclusion is a moot point because I can personally confirm that an entry from the best Reese griller of pork was not even represented in the competition.

While there is no doubt that properly prepared pork is delicious, this apparently is not the general feeling of inmates in the federal prison system. Despite the fact that October is National Pork Month (Porktober), the Federal Bureau of Prisons implemented its decision to remove pork from the menu at its 122 facilities beginning Oct. 1. The decision was based in part on a survey of inmates about their food preferences and costs. The announcement about removing pork from the menu for the 206,000 federal inmates caused quite a stir.

Understandably, the National Pork Producers Council had some concerns about the decision. NPPC asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons for more details. In a letter sent in mid-October to Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels Jr., NPPC expressed its dismay at the decision and requested a copy of the survey instrument and the results. It also questioned the cost factor, pointing out that pork prices are less than beef and nearly equal to chicken.

“Pork is a very economical, nutrient-dense protein that ought to be a food option for federal prisoners, and the U.S. pork industry has a variety of products that could meet BOP’s needs,” NPPC said in its letter.

The federal pork controversy did not stop there. It did not take long for the decision to get political. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) also sent a letter to Samuels Jr. pointing out the consequences to the nation’s pork industry and the concerns about the decision. Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the federal prison system, said in the letter:

“According to a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, the decision was based on a survey of prisoners’ food preferences that reflected that pork has been the ‘lowest-rated food’ by inmates for a number of years.

To corroborate the validity of the claim that prisoners indicated a lack of interest in pork products, I am requesting copies of the prisoner surveys and responses that were used to support the determination to no longer serve pork in federal prisons. Additionally, the spokesman indicated that pork had been the lowest rated food, ‘for several years.’ Please supply the surveys and responses dating back as far as prisoners may have indicated their dislike for pork products. In addition, please provide a line item description of the costs incurred to conduct each survey performed.

The Bureau of Prisons spokesman indicated that pork was expensive to provide. Please provide any economic evaluations the Bureau of Prisons has relied on that detail the cost of pork as compared to beef, chicken, and non-meat products such as tofu and soy products.”

From there, conservative political pundits began questioning the decision and weaving a tale suggesting President Obama was catering to the Islamic community by removing pork from the prison menu. This drew a response from the Islamic community in the Washington Post.

“That this manufactured issue is even a controversy,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in a statement, “is a clear indicator of the rise in Islamophobic conspiracy theories fueled by those who seek to demonize Islam and to marginalize American Muslims based on bigotry and misinformation.”

At any rate, after a week or so of high-level prison pork controversy surrounding the abrupt removal of pork dishes from the menu for federal inmates, the government put pork roast back on the prison menu. It seems clear that none of the parties involved in the decision about removing pork from federal prisons have been to a Reese family gathering to taste truly delicious pork tenderloin. That could have saved quite a bit of pulled pork drama.


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