Local students have taken to social media to document the age-old problem of undesirable school lunches

When a Canandaigua Academy student posted a picture of the moldy pudding that came with her school lunch to the Canandaigua 2020 Facebook page, she informed those in the group that she had seen little action from cafeteria officials.

“I asked them when they replace the cups and they replied with we dont until we need more. They also told me that the mold in my Bought lunch was not going to hurt me if I ate it?! [sic]”

But this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, Canandaigua Academy has had so many occurrences of less than desirable school lunches that students have made an Instagram account dedicated to documenting the daily wares.

As recently as Feb. 28, the moderators of the account have posted pictures of frozen milk, rubbery pizza, pimply cheesesteak, bony and overcooked chicken and more.

It’s also not the only school to have seen its lunchtime offerings shown off in such a manner. The Honeoye Falls-Lima cafeteria food has also made a number of appearances on its own dedicated Instagram account as well. Gummy and rubbery chicken, scummy beverages and, most frequently, rotten apples frequent the page.

However, a gross school lunch does not always mean schools aren’t following the standards they’re required to follow.

According to Jamie Farr, Canandaigua city school district superintendent, “There are very specific federal standards when it relates to the school lunch program. Our Director of Food Services is incredibly knowledgeable and connected with law makers at both the State and Federal levels and he spends time in Albany and Washington D.C., advocating and working with policy makers.”

He continued, “He is viewed as a leader in his field and is widely respected as such. We adhere to all federal and state standards for food service. In fact, we are even trying to increase our use of local produce and meet the call for greater Farm to Table programs.”

The Honeoye Falls-Lima food services director, Dana Boldt, said similarly, via email, “The District follows the standards created by both the Federal and State government.”

Both school districts have also stated that, despite the online complaints, they’ve received barely any, if any at all, through the district. They say they do what they can, though, to correct the situations they’re made aware of.

“The District very rarely receives complaints from the students,” said Boldt. “In the case, that a complaint is made, the Food Services Department always tries to give each student the best possible experience. This is done by either offering a replacement of the same meal or giving the student another choice of their choosing.”

Farr stated, “Our director of food services has met with student leaders and has surveyed students. If we know who files the complaints, we meet with those students to gain more information. After these latest complaints emerged, our Director of Food Services spent a great deal of time in the Academy kitchen working with staff to ensure quality food is served.

“We have actually made significant improvements to our food service program this year and the employees in that department have been proud of these changes,” Farr added.

A student behind the HF-L Instagram account, who for the sake of anonymity will go by “Alex,” agrees that not many students have made complaints, but says that the ones they have made, and the proof they’ve shown on the instagram account, have been dismissed as “fake.”

“...No one complains to school officials or lunch ladies concerning the poor condition of the food. However, many school officials dismiss our account and the images it provides as fake, which is untrue because each of the pictures on the account are real lunch images sent in by students,” said Alex.

Behind the Canandaigua Instagram account, a student, who for the sake of anonymity will go by “Sam,” agrees with Farr’s statement that a survey was sent out to students, but doesn’t think much came of it.

“A food survey was given a few months ago; however, I haven’t seen any changes in the food or service and I am unaware of any meetings. I am not in student government and I do not take part in any of the ‘leader’ meetings,” Sam said.

“The only changes I’ve noticed is they put our dressing in an ice bucket to keep them cold,” Sam continued. “Other than that, students as well as myself see the same food and service we have always seen.”

Both students, however, agree that the issue is not what is being served, but how.

“The main issue is the quality of the food,” Sam said. “Obviously everything comes in bags and is processed for school, however the chicken tenders should not be mushy and flimsy. An extra couple of minutes in the oven could make the difference, but the staff does not seem to care. The students can’t really do much about it because ‘it is what it is.’”

Alex said, “Simply put, the overall quality of some of the lunch items is not at par with what we feel is safe for consumption. From our observations and experiences, we have found that the food that is often the worst is meat items (chicken, meatballs, etc.) and fruit (mainly the apples), which can be seen in the multitude of images on our account which depict apples with rotten cores and spongy, rubbery meat products.”

There are also concerns from the students about their classmates who depend on school breakfasts and lunches to get one or two of their meals per day.

According to Farr, approximately 40% of Canandaigua students buy meals from the school, and 37% of students are eligible for free/reduced rates.

Meanwhile over at HF-L, the average daily participation for purchased lunches is 32%, and the percentage of students who get free and reduced meals is currently 17%.

“Many students rely on the school to provide lunches for a variety of reasons, and moldy, rotten, or simply inedible food is not a suitable lunch for these students,” said Alex.

Sam said, correspondingly, “Some/most included in the free lunch program only have school meals provided for them. This means if students were to refuse the food as a whole, the students with families that cannot provide food for them would not be fed.”

Sam also said that they don’t think complaints or petitions would help, but there are things that the school could and should be doing, regardless, to make lunchtime a good time for students.

“Complaints and petitions would be ineffective unless the district changes their budget system. In terms of what the school could do better: Cook the food appropriately, make it at least look semi-appetizing, and more importantly, care about the students.”

Sam added, “Not to say the lunch staff doesn’t, but if they stepped up for us and made the food the best they could we would never complain.”

As for what HF-L could do?

“Investing more in fresher ingredients, serving healthier lunches, and improving the overall quality of the food by using it closer to the purchase date instead of waiting until it has almost gone bad,” Alex said. “Simply improving the quality of the food will also make students happier and will allow them to look forward to our lunch periods more.”

“Disclaimer: our account only displays images of our less than satisfactory food from our cafeteria, however, we still have some good meals that students thoroughly enjoy,” Alex clarified.