It irks me my youngest son won’t take a lunch to school, but after four teenagers, I know I have to pick my battles.
Long ago, I knew in order not to go mad, I needed to focus on the other meals to nourish them for healthy brain and body development.
But it still irks me. I wish packed lunches were the norm. It irks me we give him lunch money for chemically laden food. It irks me I support this broken system with my measly $5. That’s our part in this mess. But he pays for it and I don’t mean financially. It is also up to him at sixteen to choose the best options there.
But if you’ve ever raised a teenage boy, you will know there are challenges which come with choices.
But what are their food choices at school really?
It’s such a convoluted issue. The deeper I dove into this, the more my heart hurt for everyone involved in this system.
First, is the school staff.
If school cafeterias were to make everything from scratch they sold, the schools couldn’t afford to pay the employees. And schools make money to run off of cafeteria profits, which is a whole other issue. Funding nutrition in schools has become very muddled and just one more mess handed to educators to handle.
The report the province commissioned in 2021 called “School Healthy Eating Programs in Nova Scotia “ states this about school funding :
“In many cases, key informants spoke of the need to critically examine current funding allotted to school food programs and services to ensure it reflects their level of importance in promoting health, fostering an inclusive learning environment, and improving academic outcomes for students. “
They have sounded the bell but I’m not sure our government is listening.
Then we could talk about the elephant in the room: why do kids need to be fed at school in the first place ? There’s my kid, who just likes to not stand out, doing what everyone else is doing. But then there is a whole other demographic.
What are the socioeconomic needs not being addressed that dictate some children, if they not fed a hot meal at school, will not be fed a hot meal at all? How and why did schools come to be a “shelter “for our children? The report I mentioned above has some fantastic and eye opening insights into actual statistics versus perception on free and universal lunches.
But my favorite part of this issue, and that’s a very warped way of describing it, is the culturally acceptance and apathy towards our food.
Where has our passion for good, local and nourishing food gone? I would rather see three really well made options available to choose from on the school menu then the plethora of products (one cannot call it food) on offer.
But then ….would the kids even eat it??
They are addicted to the chemicals they have been fed for most of their lives and we have been exposed to for the last forty years. This is well documented, and if you think all those chemical listed in your food are for preserving taste and are safe, you just need to do a little research into just ONE of them to see they are indeed not. In fact, most are banned in Europe for use.
I know a school project now locally is trialing a salad bar with a local organic farm, and it’s going well. I just wish the school didn’t have to apply for a grant to run it. Why isn’t this the norm in every school-salad bars filled with ingredients from local organic farms?
Processed food is filled with hormone disrupting soy and canola oils. Hormones disrupters are predicted to lower the level of testosterone in teenage boys to almost 0% by 2045, if we keep on this path.
Preservatives I can’t even pronounce fill the ingredient list. Even most beef is imported from Brazil and pork imported from China now at an alarming rate. Vegetables are trucked in from thousands of miles away, grown with fertilizer and contaminated water from manure lagoons next to the feed lots which house thousands and thousands of cows require recalls daily.
The government is apathetic -Oh, but wait there are regulations. Bit those are hardly backed up by the funding to do it right. And by right, I mean support learning environments. The regulations are not in place for our children’s health. They are in the interest of “safety” and cost. If they were to truly support nutrition in schools, the government would be supporting the many farmers and local grocery stores in THIS province with their purchasing programs and contracts.
Instead, they are contracted out to conglomerates, instead of local purchasing, citing buying local food was too much of a burden on school staff.
Anyone else see an easy answer to support local business owners instead of supporting a company worth trillions that definitely isn’t donating to your schools silent auction ?
One group of schools in Cumberland County pushed back against last fall however I’m not sure of their progress to date.
But are there enough small farms to meet the need for food consistently ? We have got to start with growers knowing the local school will be purchasing food from them so they are supported to be growing locally. And let’s offer less menu items but better chosen food. It will drive real change. Not just economically, but for our children’s health. It’s got to be a priority.
Parents need to back this up, instead of whining their kid “won’t eat that.” Let’s start looking at the big picture. And they will eat it if they get hungry enough.
Many large farmers today are under contract to work for food, meat and dairy conglomerates and there is little wiggle room for how it is grown, and it won’t end up locally. Profit wins over health every time for large corporations.
Sure, there are a few grants towards healthy eating initiatives. I worked for one such initiative for four years in the school system. They don’t create lasting change. It has got to be tackled systemically.
The school food budget shouldn’t be about money or following a broken food pyramid. The school can try to create healthy meals from whole food.
However, schools in Nova Scotia can only purchase food from one source: A huge food conglomerate, OH Armstrong . Of the three major players in food service, they are at least 100 % Nova Scotian owned and operated.
But looking at their product list is just like looking at any other of the major players. Sysco or Gordon.
(Sysco has one main major shareholder, Vanguard, who is worth 8.1 Trillon dollars and also is the major investor in Pfizer (I think we have all heard of this company by now) and Phillip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company. A few simple google searches led me to this. )
Many companies are becoming exponentially wealthy on the backs of our children, and at the expense of their health.
And don’t get me started on healthcare and hospital meals, a place where you are supposed to be going to get well.
It’s not really the schools fault, but the apathy is there too, because they deal with the fallout from poor nutrition, and food insecurity everyday-some have chosen to pick their battles as well, and some probably really don’t care.
So why should we care ?
Other than as a parent, you love your child of course and want them to thrive. We also should care because the fallout from this system is the rate of childhood obesity is rising, it is currently estimated at 42% in some areas. Childhood diseases are on the rise also at an alarming rate (and who profits from poor health again ….oh yeah, the drug companies).
And the role of nutrition in mental health and addictions is just not talked about enough.
Processed food is filled with hormone disrupting soy and canola oils. Preservatives I can’t even pronounce causing and fueling behavior and mental disorders. Vegetables grown with fertilizer and contaminated water from manure lagoons next to feed lots, which require recalls daily.
This cannot be our normal.
What can we do ?
We need to reclaim our food sources. How do we do that in such a horrible, accessible to our children 24/7 and hugely marketable system ?
Simply put, we need to say “NO” to it as often as we can. It really is the only answer. IMPORTANT: You don’t need to be a farmer or a homesteader to do this- just be a consumer who pays attention.
Clean out your cupboards.
Buy whole food.
Cook at home more often.
Make headspace for this. I know you have a lot coming at you but they are coming for our children.
Talk to your kids about this, so they know why. They don’t want to feel sick like they feel on this “food” any more than you do.
Start in our houses, then don’t support it elsewhere. Be vigilant as often as you can, without driving yourself or your family over the edge.
And of course, grow what you can. I know not everyone can do this. I have grace and compassion in abundance for parents today. But if you can, you should.
It has got to be the hill we die on as parents or our kids are not even going to be able to climb a hill.
Love Jenn xx