The new, reportedly healthier school lunch program being offered in township public schools is not receiving an enthusiastic welcome from many students at Parsippany Hills High School. Two students, upset over smaller portions and higher prices, aren't taking the matter lying down: They're organizing a strike.
"On Friday, we're asking everybody not to buy lunch or anything from the cafeteria," explained organizer Brandon Faris, a 17-year-old senior. "Nothing from the snack line, no water, no cookies. Not a dime will be spent in the cafeteria."
For the past week, Faris and junior Nicholas Caccavale have been handing out fliers and spreading the word. The duo has also launched a Facebook group, PPHS Lunch Strike (yes, the title contains a typo), that has more than 1,000 members.
"We want to raise awareness and let everyone know that this isn't right," he said.
The students are rearing up against the new program instituted at the start of this school year by Pomptonian Food Service.
Last June, Pomptonian introduced a new lunch program to the Parsippany Board of Education. The goal of the plan—which is mandated under the new Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a federal law designed to address childhood obesity—is to encourage students to eat healthier lunches at school.
The district has no choice but participate in the program. School districts that do not comply can be levied fines.
Company president Mark Vidovich told the school board last summer that the goal of the program is to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables, to limit bread and meat portion sizes and to cut the amount of fat available in the standard school breakfast and lunch.
Vidovich announced then that because the plan focuses most heavily on costly fruits and vegetables, the law says that the minimum lunch price charged must be raised to $2.51 to cover the additional costs required.
Students are not forced to limit themselves in their food choices. However, if they want additional items, such as cheese to top a hamburger, they must pay extra for it.
Mandated or not, the new system is not winning favor with many students.
"For the past three years, lunch prices were significantly lower," Faris said. "This year, the price of the average lunch went from $2.50 to about $4. One sandwich can cost $4 or $4.50."
He explained that much of the increased cost comes from purchasing add-ons, such as cheese, snacks, beverages—and, for some, an additional sandwich.
"After they eat lunch, a lot of people go back to buy more, because they are still hungry," he said. "They want to actually be full when they finish eating."
Faris said he is hearing a lot of students—and teachers and staff members—say that they will brown bag it on Friday to ensure that the PHHS cafeteria does as little business as possible.
"Students say they would rather save their money," he said, adding that they can use the same money to buy food outside of school. "We'd get more food for their money by buying lunch somewhere else."
Faris said what he really wants to see is "an open campus at lunchtime, so if people want to get a sub or pizza outside of school, they can."
"We really would rather not pay a ridiculous price for not so great a lunch," he said. "We're in high school—we want a full meal."
Faris, who has lived in Parsippany since kindergarten and is planning to have a career in law enforcement, said he's getting nothing but positive reinforcement from the adults in his life.
"Teachers are saying they're proud of us," he said. "Same with my mom. She said she was proud and told me to go for it."
Patch awaits responses from district administration and Pomptonian.
Told of the forthcoming strike, Board of Education member Anthony Mancuso said the program was in place because it was mandated by law.
"We have to follow the law," he said.
However the powers that be feel, the students, said Faris, are stoked for the strike.
"Every day, more and more people have been added to the Facebook group. It's really growing," he said.