MILWAUKEE — Students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) are demanding better quality food and a new mural can now be found on the side of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA) building. It reads "Students Demand School Lunch Justice" and visualizes the message behind their fight.
"Sometimes, (the foods) have either a slimy texture or the flavor or something is off about it," said Arlene Solis, an MPS high school freshman.
"School lunch was a bigger problem than we thought it would be," said Nevaeh Falcon-Villanueva, another freshman.
Solis and Falcon-Villanueva are two of thousands who are signing an online petitionthat has garnered more than 20,000 signatures as the group Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) lays out six demands while organizing the School Lunch Justice Project.
They're asking for fresh food cooked in school, more options, accommodations for cultural, religious and medical needs, larger portions, pay raises for workers and regular meetings with MPS leaders to implement those demands.
"We've been coming up with this for months," said Falcon-Villanueva who is helping to organize the movement.
Back in September 2021, TMJ4 News spoke with teachers and district leaders after unflattering images of MPS lunches began to circulate online.
The conversation about "bad lunches" is also extending beyond Milwaukee. Earlier this month, TMJ4 spoke with students and parents in Racine after a video of an unappetizing lunch went viral on social media.
Both districts in Racine and Milwaukee say supply chain challenges are part of the issues right now. MPS leaders also point to the staffing shortages being experienced.
Still, MPS reiterates that their meals meet USDA requirements and sent TMJ4 News a statement saying, "The mission of our Department of Nutrition Services is to support academic achievement by providing students with high quality nutritious meals, with an emphasis on exceptional customer service and financial responsibility. We are working diligently with all our students to hear their concerns and certainly welcome feedback regarding how we can continue to improve our meals and provide nutrition with a more equitable lens."
The District also sent students a letter addressing each of the six demands, saying they're working to expand menus, increase the use of fresh fruits and vegetables and that they're even working to hire a chef to help diversity food offerings.
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