Why NYC Public School's New Vegan Fridays Aren't Actually Vegan

A new plant-based lunch initiative across New York City public schools has received mixed reviews since its initial rollout last week. According to ABC 7, the "Vegan Fridays" initiative, which requires schools to serve meat- and dairy-free meals on the last day of the week, launched last Friday, prompting confusion and complaints citywide over the healthful veggie-based meals.

Earlier this month, the newly elected NYC mayor Eric Adams — who himself sticks to a vegan diet — announced the debut of the program, which is an expansion of the Department of Education's Meatless Mondays initiative that began in 2019 (via NY1).

"Plant-based options in schools means healthy eating and healthy living, and improving the quality of life for thousands of New York City students," Adams told ABC 7. "Plant-based meals are delicious and nutritious, which is why I previously called for vegetarian and vegan options in schools. I'm thrilled to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions."

However, it turns out that Vegan Fridays won't be entirely vegan after all. Although lunch rooms will be serving exclusively plant-based foods, students will be offered cartons of cow milk per a USDA guideline that requires public schools to serve milk at all school meals. According to the NYC Department of Education, non-vegan dishes will also be "available on request" on Fridays. 

NYC's Vegan Fridays initiative got off to a bumpy start

Adams claims that the healthful initiative has been welcomed with open arms by students, adding that "they are tired of the food they are being [fed] in their schools, and they want healthy options." The mayor also notes that each of the vegan items served during Friday lunches have been taste tested by a small group of students in advance (via ABC 7).

However, according to New York Daily News, the Vegan Fridays initiative — which was set to debut with a citywide menu of seasoned broccoli and veggie tacos — got off to a somewhat bumpy start, as some schools failed to have the proper ingredients required to craft the vegan menu by launch time. Other schools apparently served the plant-based dishes, but topped them with dairy products and other non-vegan ingredients.

New York state senator Jessica Ramos tweeted a photo of a vegan lunch offered to one student (consisting of a small pile of roast veggies, apple slices, and baked tortilla chips), writing: "@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 ... for Vegan Fridays. The only real meal some of our city's kids can count on is what they get [at] school. This wasn't thought through."

The initial vegan lunch offerings have received criticism

Other concerned New Yorkers shared critiques of the vegan lunches on social media, including one person who tweeted an image of the plant-based tacos, writing: "This is the ... new vegan option for Fridays. Most of the kids dumped this in the garbage or just ate the cookies. It smelled like armpits [and] it was completely unappetizing. Why would you remove options for students? A dry cheese sandwich isn't going to cut it."

Many of the students interviewed about the debut of the vegan lunch expressed disappointment over the initial plant-based offerings, saying that they preferred meat-centric menu items (via New York Daily News). However, for now, the Mayor's healthy eating initiative is here to stay.

"Our children should not continually be fed food that's causing their healthcare crises: childhood obesity, childhood diabetes, asthma," Adams said in an interview on Fox 5. The new mayor hopes the almost-entirely-vegan menu will be a small but meaningful step towards a healthier future for the city's public school students.