It’s difficult to prioritize fresh-pressed juice and other healthy alternatives when you’re thinking about where your next meal is coming from.
As headlines spread about Health Canada’s proposed changes to the country’s food guide, one critical fact goes largely ignored: a large portion of Canadians can’t afford to follow the guide, let alone count on three meals a day.
While 90 per cent of students from grades 6 to 12 don’t meet the daily quota recommended for fruits and vegetables, many Canadians face far harsher restrictions. One in every six children in Canada is impacted by household food insecurity, and 70 per cent of children in Nunavut go to bed hungry.
The federal government doesn’t seem to be concerned with what’s become a cross-country concern. Canada is currently the only G7 country without a national school food program, and Health Canada has stated there are no immediate plans to implement such an initiative.
Research proves poor childhood nutrition can lead to mood problems, depression, and other chronic health issues. As younger generations grow older, these concerns are only amplified. A child without an informed understanding of nutrition matures into an under-informed adult—it becomes cyclical.
Canada needs a national school food program to set children up to lead healthy and productive lives. Hungry children can’t live or learn to their full capacities, and they deserve better. While prioritization of a national food guide is beneficial, our government needs to put money where its proverbial mouth is.
Despite initial taxpayer resistance, a national school food program could alleviate future costs in a range of areas. Consistent nutrition positions children to do better in school and, eventually, in the workforce. It encourages a sense of stability, improves overall mental health, and decreases the likelihood of breaking the law.
Further, food insecurity has been repeatedly linked to high suicide rates across Canada. This is particularly relevant in historically marginalized Northern and Indigenous communities with less economic opportunities. A universal food program would help to level the playing field. Families wouldn’t have to choose between paying rent and putting healthy food in their children’s lunchboxes.
An investment in student health is an investment in Canadian communities. It has massive implications for social justice and health. Of the many benefits Canadian taxes provide, a national school food program would be a worthy endeavour.
It’s not enough for our federal government to verbally support social equity and increased opportunities for its citizens. A raft of policies addressing reconciliation and equality among marginalized communities doesn’t mean much without addressing the many basic needs—like nutrition—that impact Canadians’ daily lives.
People who can’t afford lunch are still Canadian citizens—they just don’t seem to be supported as such.
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