‘Orange Is The New Black’ is back today for a third season, and Antonia has got her geek specs and her tributary satsumas at the ready. I did suggest dying our hair ginger and buying tangerine coloured t-shirts but she thought that idea was too last season. Funnily enough, I’ve been avoiding eating oranges because they contain histamine and I’ve been locked up indoors for the best part of the week with a bad bout of hay fever. I am also trying for my orange belt in wado ryu karate this weekend, which will come in handy if I ever end up sharing a cell with a pyschopath.
The Netflix prison drama, based on Piper Kerman’s best selling autobiography ‘Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison’ (2010, Random House), first burst onto our screens with its blend of comedy and controversy in July 2013, and has fast become one of the streaming channel’s mostly frequently watched shows; it follows the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a thirty-something, white, middle-class career woman who is sentenced to fifteen months in an American correctional facility for transporting a suitcase of drug money through customs – an offence she committed ten years before for her ex-girlfriend. On leaving her charmed life with man-childish fiancee, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her newly established business, Piper vows to make prison a meaningful experience and possibly learn carpentry; however, once she’s inside the walls of the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary, she struggles to fit in with the other women (most of whom haven’t shared her privileged upbringing) and their rules: in episode one, she is served a bread roll with a bloody tampon in it after she offends kitchen matriarch, Red Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); and she is shocked to discover that old flame and ex-drug-smuggler, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), is also an inmate.
I sometimes wonder how I’d fare food-wise if I were ever incarcerated: on one hand I’d want to stay true to my beliefs and steer clear of eating and wearing animal products, but on the other I’d be worried about rocking the boat and making enemies of the prison wardens or kitchen staff; I would also want to avoid going without meals or important food groups because I’d like to have my wits about me in case of any altercations, but having worked as a writer-in-residence in a prison for two years I’ve heard my fair share of grumbles relating to the dinners inside and I understand that providing fruit and veg for cons is not high on the rehabilitation agenda. Obviously, this is a very good incentive not to break the law, but the idea of any fellow vegan – no matter who they are or what they’ve done – having their human rights breached bothered me, especially since I knew there must be plenty of political prisoners serving custodial sentences in the UK who are devoted to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.
So I googled ‘Vegan’, ‘Uk’ and ‘prison’ which came up with a blog post by PETA (‘People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals’) called ‘The Top Five Vegan-Friendly Prisons In The UK’, followed by a link to the ‘Vegan Prisoners Support Organisation’ and an article from the Guardian dated 2009 which stated that after a fifteen year campaign imprisoned vegans would be permitted to buy animal-free food and basic hygiene products such as soap and tooth paste; the ‘fight’ to allow vegan prisoners to wear non-leather shoes was allegedly still continuing at that time. I can’t help thinking it’s great that this information exists, but that it’s completely useless to people who can’t access it or don’t know about it. Plus, how would you ascertain someone’s vegan status? Would someone who followed a plant-based diet for health reasons but wore leather be excluded in the eyes of prison authority? And who would get to decide how far vegan ethics would be allowed to stretch?
Most of the storylines in OITNB are about women who are in some way marginalised; and for that reason I’d love to see them include a vegan character. It would be even better if a potential vegan storyline was a bit more imaginative than the stereotypical crazy-animal-rights-activist-blows-up-science-lab-to-save-two-rabbits-and-kills-loads-of-people-in-the-process. Maybe there could be a new sexy cucumber-wielding vegan lesbian love interest for either (or both) on/off girlfriends Piper and Alex? Or a tofu-eating, kick-ass, hipster warden could take over and force Red to take meat off the menu altogether?
One thing’s for sure: Antonia and I will be under house arrest till we’ve watched all fourteen new episodes.