- A young child travelling on the school bus for 45 minutes to get to school. Despite having breakfast, the child’s stomach is growling by the time class starts.
- A junior high school student with early morning soccer practice. It’s a mad rush to get to the field and then class, with no chance to start the day with a healthy breakfast.
- A child from a family in which both parents work full-time earning minimum wage. There isn’t enough income to make ends meet, so sometimes breakfast or lunches are skipped.
- Students with only 15 or 20 minutes break to eat lunch quickly before their next class or extra-curricular activities.
- A school cafeteria where part-time workers have little time to prepare a healthy lunch, often made harder by having minimal kitchen equipment and tight budgets.
- Parents, educators and volunteers fundraising to supplement the current mix of community and corporate donations and provincial government support to offer healthy school breakfast, snack and lunch programs.
These and similar stories are what fuels a growing movement across Nova Scotia and Canada for a different kind of focus on food in schools. Parents, community volunteers, cafeteria staff, educators, school systems, and students are all struggling under the patchwork of funding and infrastructure related to food in schools.
When we layer on some of the pressures kids face relating to food (e.g., allergies and dietary restrictions, corporate food marketing to kids, easy access to less healthy foods, the lack of culturally-appropriate food for some students, issues of body image and mental health, and the challenges of peer pressure on student food choices and eating patterns), then the situation becomes even more challenging.
We know that children and youth living in Canada generally aren’t eating enough vegetables and fruits (much of which could come from our local farmers, yet often doesn’t). We also know they spend most of their waking time in schools. When students are well-nourished throughout the day, research shows that classroom behaviours improve, as do learning and health outcomes. It makes sense. Who concentrates and learns well when they’re hungry?
Many provincial and municipal governments, the private sector, and community support create healthy, school food programs across this country, but not all schools or children are reached and many programs are extremely vulnerable. Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. In fact, Unicef’s 2017 Report Card ranked Canada 37th of 41 rich countries with regards to children’s food access.
In partnership with the national Coalition for Healthy School Food, an ever-expanding group of organizations – co-led by the Ecology Action Centre, Nourish NS, and Grow NS, with support from NS Federation of Agriculture and public health – have come together in a local campaign to #SpeakUp4SchoolFood.
Our ask is for a federal investment in an adequately-funded national cost-shared universal healthy school food program. We cannot begin to effectively tackle these interrelated issues without more financial support and an alignment of efforts. It’s time to let our Members of Parliament and Senators know that healthy food in schools matters.
If you’re a parent or guardian, member of a School Advisory Committee, local farmer, educator, cafeteria worker, or student, then sign up for the #SpeakUp4School Food campaign to access resources, learn of easy ways to take action, and the latest news. On the campaign website, there is also a direct link to the official House of Commons online petition. Join us in sending a strong message to Ottawa that school food matters.
Blog written by: Satya Ramen, Senior Coordinator, Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre.
Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ourfood