‘Moldy, unappetizing, slimy’: Brooklyn pol slams quality of public school lunches amid budget cuts

examples of school lunches
Students in Brooklyn and Staten Island snapped photos of their unappetizing school lunches.
Photos courtesy of Iwen Chu District Office

State Sen. Iwen Chu is calling on Mayor Eric Adams to immediately address the decline in quality of public school lunches due to budget cuts, amid concerns that students are going hungry and the impact a poor diet has on their learning abilities. 

The state representative for southern Brooklyn said her office has received a litany of complaints from parents about the standard of food being served up in the city’s public schools following the $60 million cut made to the Education Department’s budget by the Adams administration in November.

Parents of Brooklyn Tech High School, Staten Island Tech High School, Murrow High School, and Midwood High School were among those who sent Chu photos of the “horrifying” lunches their children received, which include moldy produce and slapped up slop.

“It is unacceptable to see the quality of school lunches being provided to our students. No student should be presented with moldy, unappetizing, slimy, and incomplete food options,” said Chu, condemning city officials who she says are leaving students with no choice but to starve so the city can save on costs.

“Insufficient meals harm a child’s memory, concentration, motor skills, energy, and overall mood. For students facing food insecurity, they rely on free or reduced fee school lunches that can provide them with nutrition and protein,” she added.

gross school lunches
Chu said she is appalled at the quality of food options and demand urgent action to improve school lunches.Courtesy of Iwen Chu District Office

On Feb. 19, Chu penned a letter to Adams and NYC Public Schools Chancellor David Banks demanding urgent action to improve the quality of lunches as the students “entrusted caretakers.”

“As a public school mother, I’m appalled by the substandard quality of food being served to our children,” Chu wrote. “NYC Public Schools must step up and give equal importance to both. The thought of our children going hungry is beyond unacceptable. I urge you to take immediate action to improve the quality of school meals. It’s not just a request, it’s a necessity.”

According to a DOE spokesperson, the schools flagged by Sen. Chu were “immediately” visited by a team of inspectors following her complaint. The outcome of each inspection was not made clear to Brooklyn Paper.

“The health and safety of our young people, including the meals they eat each day, is our top priority, and we are proud to serve almost 900,000 high quality delicious and nutritious meals every day, the spokesperson said. “All food quality issues are investigated immediately, and we follow daily extensive protocols to ensure that that food is received, stored, cooked and served safely.”

Changes to lunch menus followed the 5% budget cut to the Department of Education which was announced in the Mayor’s November 2023 plan. On Jan. 12, Adams did reverse the budget cuts to community schools across the city and restored $10 million in funding for the city’s DOE community schools, along with announcing an $80 million investment in Summer Rising, the city’s summer program that connects 110,000 elementary and middle school students.

Representatives for Adams not respond to Brooklyn Paper’s request for comment by press time, but a spokesperson for the DOE told Chalkbeat in January that school lunch costs increased this year due to 9% increase in student participation — and that cuts to the food budget have been supplemented by funds from the federal government.

Chu’s district encompasses parts of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Kensington.