Fish Flinger Refuses to Eat Jail Foodby Sherry Devlin
Missoulian - September 27, 2000
Activist on hunger strike after being denied vegetarian diet
The 20-year-old activist who threw salmon at U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage during a congressional field hearing in Missoula earlier this month is on a hunger strike because jailers won't serve him vegetarian meals.
Randall Mark has refused all meals since he was booked into the Missoula County Detention Facility on Sept. 16, insisting that he be provided with a diet free of anything derived from an animal.
"He's demanding, not asking," said Missoula County Undersheriff Mike McMeekin. "No dairy products. No meat. Nothing that has anything to do with an animal or animal byproduct."
And while the jail can and does accommodate special diets for "legitimate medical reasons" or for "established practitioners of a recognized religion," it does not cater to inmate requests, McMeekin said.
"Let's remember what this facility is," he said.
Mark, a Moscow, Idaho, resident, is being held on two counts of assault on a member of Congress - federal misdemeanors - for throwing a "pie" made of canned salmon on Chenoweth-Hage, an Idaho Republican, and Rep. Rick Hill of Montana during a hearing on the summer's massive wildfires.
Neither politician was injured in the attack, but Chenoweth-Hage did briefly recess the hearing while she cleaned salmon flakes from her hair and jacket.
Mark was originally charged by Missoula County prosecutors with two misdemeanors, but those charges were dropped Tuesday in lieu of the federal complaint. He has not yet been arraigned on the federal charges, which carry the potential of a year in prison.
In a press release faxed to Missoula media by friends of Mark, the activist said he finds it "ironic that when you go to jail you are supposed to abandon all morals at the door." Mark said he abides by a vegetarian diet out of "moral conviction, spiritual belief and social values."
Vegans, he said, "are opposed to exploitation, commodification and incorporation of other sentient beings."
In a phone call, a friend of Mark's - who would not identify herself - said the hunger strike is intended as a protest of both the jail's lack of vegetarian cuisine and Mark's detainment as a "quasi-political prisoner." The attack on Chenoweth-Hage, she said, was a "political pieing."
At the jail, McMeekin put it differently. "He just doesn't eat," the undersheriff said. "Which is his right. He has a right not to eat."
But Mark is given three meals a day, and has been granted a special dispensation to "trade" food with other inmates. "When the meal trays come in, if there is anything he objects to, he is allowed to trade," he said. "The other inmates can take his hamburger and he can take their vegetables. Normally, that's not allowed."
Mark and his attorney did meet with jailers Tuesday morning and were trying to reach a mealtime compromise. "But at some point, we are not going to make an accommodation," McMeekin said. "It is Mr. Mark's responsibility to eat."
Mark is not ill, although his news release said he was growing weaker each day and is now abstaining from fluids as well as from food.
He is also recruiting other inmates to his cause.
Six other prisoners asked for a vegetarian diet Tuesday, including one who a day earlier ordered beef jerky from the commissary, McMeekin said. Their requests will be evaluated by the same criteria as was Mark's demand.
"Now all the sudden, everybody wants a vegan diet," McMeekin said. "We have requests for a vegan diet from people who had never heard of a vegan diet before Randall came in. We simply are not going to respond to a hundred different dietary requests. This is still a detention center."
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