Across more than 1,700 public schools in New York City, a new initiative aims to give children more plant-based meals with the launch of Vegan Fridays. Over 1 million students in grades K-12 will have plant-based lunch options at school on Fridays.
The initiative was started by newly elected NYC Mayor Eric Adams, the city’s first vegan mayor. Adams, vegan since 2016, says the initiative will improve the overall health for the city’s students.
“Vegan Fridays introduced students to plant-based options that will eventually improve the quality of life for thousands of New York City students,” according to a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, as reported by Eater. “Parents, students and principals across the city have given positive feedback on today’s launch and we are excited to continue the conversation of healthier options in schools.”
But with the first Vegan Friday, many students aren’t quite as enthusiastic about the change as the mayor says they are. The vegan school lunches have proven to still be school lunches, in that they aren’t the most appetizing of meals.
Students and parents posted photos of the meals on Twitter, showing dry black beans or limp burritos and bags of chips, cookies and apples.
“I was thinking — oh, well it’s a burrito,” Katie Wilkins, a 6th grader in Manhattan, told ABC 7. “It was a very interesting burrito that was smooshed down kinda compressed a little.”
Wilkins also noticed something else off about the meal: it wasn’t even vegan.
“It said cheese on it, so I was thinking vegan cheese, right? So I was looking at the ingredients on the back — wheat, soy, and milk. Not soy milk, but soy comma milk, which makes me think there was lactose in it, therefore it is not vegan because it’s milk,” Wilkins said.
The new program rollout comes as the USDA recently announced updated nutrition standards for schools that will go into effect in July 2022. The updated guidelines say schools must offer low-fat, flavored milks, at least 80% of grains served each week must be whole grain-rich, and in the 2023-34 school year, sodium levels must decrease by 10%. As such, the schools will still offer milk to drink as well as some “lighter” dairy options for a transitional period of time.
NYC’s public schools were already serving meatless meals twice a week before beginning Vegan Fridays. With the lackluster meals showcased on social media, critics are concerned that the meals won’t be enough for some students whose main source of food is breakfasts and lunches at school.
“We want to make sure our kids are getting the protein they need for their brain development at such a critical age,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos.
The senator also posted a photo of a school lunch and tweeted, “@NYCMayor I am as much a believer in the power of healthy food as you, but this ain’t it. This was served to a public school student #Seenin13 for Vegan Fridays. The only real meal some of our city’s kids can count on is what they get @ school. This wasn’t thought through.”
The Vegan Fridays initiative will also offer vegetarian options upon request, and a spokesperson told ABC 7 that they are open to feedback to improve the program.