Feds set table for school-food program, warned to avoid top-down approach

To be determined: which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive

Students at Madison Crossing Elementary School in Canton, Miss., eat lunch in the school’s cafeteria on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rogelio V. Solis

The federal Liberals are being told to avoid creating a one-size-fits-all national school-food program to replace the existing patchwork of efforts to feed hungry children.

The Liberals promised in their 2019 budget to work toward creating a such a program and have reached out to provinces, territories and key stakeholders over the past months.

The design of a new program will provide answers to lingering questions about how soon the program kicks off, how big it will be when it begins, which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive.

Federal officials have been told to provide provinces, territories and even schools themselves with the latitude needed to deliver programs that meet local needs, said Joanne Bays, co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The group seeks to get locally produced food into public institutions’ kitchens, starting with schools.

“The main message was ‘go slow’ and Canada needs a recipe for success,” said Bays, whose organization receives federal funding to run and evaluate a food program in dozens of schools.

“We have lots of other places we can look to see what they have done, but we need to pilot these things in Canada and evaluate and come up with our own unique formula.”

Canada is the only member of the G7 group of countries with large economies that doesn’t have a national school-food program.

Instead, there are thousands of food programs for the roughly five million children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools — programs often run by community groups with financial help from governments and charities.

Feeding all school-aged children could cost billions each year, depending on whether funding would provide snacks, breakfast or lunch, or more than one of those. It’s a steep budget ask, and also potentially too ambitious for the current system to handle.

Instead, as a start, the Coalition for Healthy School Food has asked the Liberals for $360 million in this year’s budget to expand existing local programs and grow slowly, similar to what the Liberals did with their child-care spending.

“No one at this moment, I think, is interested in the federal government coming in and funding a brand new, top-down program, for a variety of reasons,” said Debbie Field, the coalition’s co-ordinator.

“Not even that it would be expensive, but primarily it would erase what is on the ground, which would be a bad idea.”

A national program would likely require cost-sharing with provinces and territories. Negotiating funding deals would delay any large social program, as the Liberals have found with their housing and child-care strategies.

KEEP READING: Almost half of all First Nations families are ‘food insecure,’ 10-year study says

And those agreements and associated spending were approved when the Liberals had a majority in the House of Commons, which they lost in the October election.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada show that 8.7 per cent of Canadian households, or almost 1.25 million homes, are considered “food insecure,” meaning they don’t have enough money to afford, or otherwise can’t get, the amount and variety of food needed for a healthy lifestyle.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hope-raised NHL official among BC Hockey Hall of Fame inductees

Jay Sharrers officiated 1,419 regular NHL games, plus Stanley Cup finals and Olympics

How would crowded Fraser Valley hospitals deal with patient surge? Officials won’t say

Amid coronavirus case and crowding issues, health officials won’t say where more patients would go

Sasquatch Mountain Aussie Day celebration raises $800

Proceeds of bikini runs, toonie tosses and more go to wildfire victims

Artists at Work featured at Hope Arts Gallery in February

Melange 2020 will showcase myriad talents by local artists until Feb. 28

DNA confirms SUV struck and killed Abbotsford cyclist in 2015, court hears

Kerry Froese operated company that owned vehicle that struck and killed Ronald James Scott in 2015

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Watch out for scams, clickbait in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death: Better Business Bureau

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles

Surrey massage therapist suspended for reading books on cellphone during treatments

Investigation sparked by patient who was concerned she’d been photographed

‘Very disrespectful’: Headstones at Okanagan cemetery damaged by excavation crew

Headstones at Enderby’s Cliffside Cemetery mistakenly driven over by excavation crew

Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Recent studies suggest overall bird population has slid by three billion since 1970

Former UN committee member defends stance on B.C.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline

First Nations LNG Alliance accused UN committee, human rights watchdog of not doing their research

Police release photo of suspect in theft of Indigenous regalia in Vancouver

A person stole nine pieces of Indigenous regalia, five drums, and traditional boots

Opioid crisis to blame for shorter life expectancy in B.C. men, says Stats Can

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

Most Read