Did you know that Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program?
MLFPC is proud to show its support for a national school food program as part of the 2021 Great Big Crunch on March 11. It’s an opportunity to show solidarity with educators and families advocating for robust student nutrition programs. This work couldn’t be more important for Canadian families and communities.
It is oddly uncharacteristic for Canada not to have a strong national school food program. We are noted for having equitable health care, yet we’re missing key components to a safe and flourishing childhood, which is just as much of an equity issue with similarly long-lasting benefits. And the intersections between access to fresh and nutritious food, physical and mental health, and the capacity to learn, are well-known (The Coalition for Healthy School Food’s website provides an overview of this issue). And given our commitment to good governance and effective, value-producing investment, it is strange that we have not yet created a robust system of school nutrition programs that will help lay a foundation for flourishing families and communities. Canada could be—and should be—a leader in this field.
Instead, we find ourselves 37th among the wealthiest 41 countries pursuing Sustainable Development Goal 2 “Zero Hunger” according to UNICEF Canada’s 2017 analysis. The most recent data on this topic, the World Food Program’s State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 (published on 24 February 2021) clearly shows how “school feeding programmes provide the world’s most extensive safety net” (196) and contribute directly to a community’s resiliency and ability to respond to and weather emergencies. It is well-known how COVID-19 has exacerbated existing food insecurities and significantly increased the need for emergency hunger relief. The absence of a national school food program has hampered Canada’s ability to respond to this food crisis, and its continued absence will inhibit our response to crises in the future.
Even during “normal times,” school food programs are effective investments and provide exceptionally good value for their money. Well-managed programs, return approximately $9 of value for every $1 invested according to a recent (2018) World Bank analysis. It is difficult to identify other investments that would benefit our communities with a 900% rate of return. In addition, school food programs are often drivers of increased jobs and economic activity, especially when they are coupled with local procurement policies as MLFPC advocates. According to some estimates, school food programs directly create approximately 2000 jobs for every 100 000 children fed, which is approximately the number of students within the Thames Valley region. At the same time, with only 30% of school food purchases currently being made locally, it is estimated that a national school food program built on local procurement could contribute $4.8 billion to Canadian agriculture by 2029.
Canada is one of the leading agricultural producers in the world and Southwestern Ontario is one of the most productive and diverse agricultural regions in Canada. Imagine how much economic vitality local procurement for a national school food program would contribute to our London Middlesex community. Now imagine how much that fresh, local, nutritious food would contribute to our community’s students and families.
Join MLFPC on March 11 for a special virtual Great Big Crunch event. Check our FB page for details. For more information on the national school food program, check out the Coalition for Healthy School Food website.