Running Out of Food in the Cafeteria


Shown is a food station in the Brooklyn Tech cafeteria with only one meal option for students, in addition to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There are no beverages, besides the water station (not shown), and no fresh produce available to students.

Students at Brooklyn Tech are experiencing lunch shortages this school year with their transition back into the building, prompting questions as to why this is happening and what can be done to remedy it.

Following Brooklyn Tech COVID-19 guidelines, students are now split between spending their lunch periods in the auditorium and cafeteria. This system was instituted to decrease the number of students congregating together at lunch without masks, but this change sparks another unexpected problem. Some students are told that there is no more food, leaving them without a meal option when sitting for their lunch period. This is especially true for non-traditional lunch alternatives like vegetarian meals, which are often not available in large quantities to students.

Distributing lunch to different locations has been an adjustment for staff and students alike. Now, students who have lunch the auditorium pick up their lunch in the main lobby before going to their designated lunch destination. As for students in the cafeteria, they collect their lunch in the traditional manner by going to food stations. 

Interviews were conducted with students seated in the cafeteria, who commonly experienced the frustrating phenomenon of running out of lunch. 

Jason Jiang (‘23), who usually sits in the center section of the cafeteria at Brooklyn Tech, relies on receiving school lunch three to four times per week. “Yes, I have experienced running out of lunch in the cafeteria,” he said. When asked about food waste in the cafeteria, he also noted that he has seen students throw away partially eaten or full servings of lunch “too often.”

School lunch staff declined to comment when asked to participate in a brief interview about the lunch shortage and meal uniformity.

In an interview, Principal Mr. Newman commented: “We’ve had fewer lunch people than we’ve had before and we’ve had a COVID vaccine mandate for all people in schools, so we lost some people…it’s not a lack of food; it’s a lack of workers to prepare the food.” Newman also mentioned that the issue of running out of food during lunch had been brought to his attention earlier in the year, but he thought the problem had been resolved. Now aware that this is an ongoing problem, Newman said that he will reach out to the dietary supervisor in order to find a viable solution.

Not only do these issues impact students here at Tech, but they also violate the DOE’s meal regulations for all schools. According to the NYC Schools website, all students who are learning from an in-person schooling model are entitled to free breakfast and lunch daily. 

In addition to the requirement of universal access to free meals for NYC public school students, schools are also required to follow the meal calendar in serving varying foods each day. Referencing the table below, Brooklyn Tech is supposed to offer a large range of meal options daily to students, including vegan and vegetarian lunches. 

Rain Chan (‘23) noted that the school is not following the DOE-mandated lunch schedule which includes days such as “No Meat Monday” in order to accommodate NYC students who have dietary restrictions.  Supported by student interviews, it appears that Brooklyn Tech isn’t following the meal calendar at all; some days the same foods are served multiple times in a row. Alex Vega (’23) even recalls mozzarella sticks and burritos that were served for a week straight in the cafeteria.

Dia Brar (’23), a student in the Software Engineering major, expressed her frustration with school lunch: “I’m in school for over 8 hours a day and it becomes exhausting, and the school doesn’t have any viable lunch options with proper nutrition to keep me energized,” she stated. 

In discussing healthier alternatives for school lunch, Brar noted: “I wish there were more options and that the salad bar was actually in use.”  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, salad bars and other forms of communal meal serving are prohibited. Brar’s opinion was reiterated by most of the students interviewed, noting that there are inadequate options for lunch, which even seem to be unavailable on some days.

The fact that Tech seems to be running out of lunches also poses the question of whether or not other schools are facing this issue as well. Most NYC schools are experiencing a food shortage due to the pandemic and loss of cafeteria staff because of school staff and student vaccination mandates, which have greatly disrupted the supply chain. The New York Times has reported that due to labor shortages, especially in terms of truck drivers, schools are backed upon receiving their necessary pantry items. It is also important to consider the financial impact that COVID-19 has had on families, forcing more parents to rely on school lunches for their children.

It is fair to say that the DOE and school officials have no immediate resolution to these supply and demand issues. On a larger scale, the Biden administration is in the process of resolving the economic crisis in the country, but the reality is that we need a solution right now.