By: Suzanne Rent, Published March 25, 2019
‘We can’t afford not to do this’
A national campaign called #SpeakUp4SchoolFood says it’s good news that the federal government will work with the provinces and territories on a national school food program. The announcement was made on Tuesday, March 19, in the federal budget. Canada is the only G7 country that doesn’t have a national school food program.
The #SpeakUp4SchoolFood campaign is being led locally by the Ecology Action Centre and Nourish Nova Scotia, which are working with the community health boards across the province, including the Dartmouth Community Health Board. The Ecology Action Centre and Nourish Nova Scotia are two of the 49 member organizations with The Coalition for Healthy School Food, the national group moving the campaign forward.
“This is exciting news, especially for the many school food champions in Nova Scotia and beyond who have been working towards a universal healthy school food program for years,” says Margo Riebe-Butt, the executive director of Nourish Nova Scotia. “A school food program can work to address both issues of child ill health and inequity, as well as potentially creating economic spinoffs for local food systems.”
The coalition is asking for an initial investment of $360 million, which would grow to $1.8 billion annually, to support the national program. Schools could customize the program to suit their needs. Schools could source food from local farms or even grow it in gardens on school grounds. Ninety-three per cent of public schools already fund some food programs, primarily those for breakfast, so a national school food program could cover lunches and snacks.
“The community will know the needs of their school,” says Kayla Thomas, a program development co-ordinator with Nourish Nova Scotia. “How many volunteers they have, how many students will be coming and, because of that, they will shape their program accordingly. We really want the schools to be the driving force of what their program could look like.”
The coalition also created a postcard campaign and they’re asking supporters to send out the postcards, which have a colourful drawing created by a young student, to their MLAs, MPs and senators. There’s no postage to send the cards to senators and MPs. The community health boards have been the drivers behind that campaign. Monique Mullins-Roberts, a co-ordinator with the Dartmouth Community Health Board, says feeding children at school will improve academic performance and behaviour.
“We hear all the time that food security is a huge issue in our communities,” Mullins-Roberts says. “I think a national school food program would mean families feeling supported by their schools, parents feeling less pressure knowing their children are well fed through the day. It would impact mental wellness. It would impact physical wellness. It would impact every aspect of our community.”
In June 2018, then senator Art Eggleton put forward motion 358 for an adequately funded, cost-shared universal nutrition program for children and youth. There’s also a national petition (bit.ly/2rpeBsU) to the federal minister of health calling for a national school food program.
Thomas and Mullins-Roberts are encouraging people to send a postcard, sign the petition or share the #SpeakUp4SchoolFood hashtag through their social media.
“We can’t afford not to do this,” Thomas says. “This would be a benefit to all Nova Scotia children and youth, but also our economy if we are sharing more local foods, if we’re creating local jobs and infrastructure within the school setting. We feel pretty optimistic and there’s been a lot of momentum locally. We hope MPs and senators are listening to their constituents.”
To learn more, visit: nourishns.ca/speakup