In June of 2018, the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released a revised version of its school food policy 711 in support of “Healthier School Food Environments”. The policy does not impact food and beverages that students bring from home. Instead, it applies to food served in schools or school-related events and activities (i.e. cafeterias, classrooms, co-curricular, and extra-curricular events, fundraising activities, and other school-sponsored and endorsed activities and events).
Policy 711 has been around for over a decade, but the revisions have caused alarm bells to ring within some school, parent, and volunteer groups.
With the revisions, foods that fall under the “Lower Nutritional Value” category (e.g. processed foods high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats like French fries, white bread, cheese slices, sugar added beverages, chocolate bars, etc.) are banned from schools, including for fundraising efforts. This means that bake sales, pizza parties, and cake walks would no longer be allowed. The introduction of these revisions happened, for some groups, about a week before the first day of school, and understandably left some scrambling to plan new fundraisers (or cancel already planned events) as the tried and true methods would no longer be allowed. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that some schools depend on these fundraisers to buy basic school supplies like paper for art class, or cleaning supplies for instruments in music class.
Others have raised a separate concern. Fresher foods cost more money and many programs rely on donations that come in the form of “Lower Nutritional Value” foods. So, if a school doesn’t have the means to purchase healthier options, and/or it can no longer accept what is being donated, some groups believe that the revised policy will serve to create a larger hunger gap. The concern is that programs would be forced to serve no food instead of serving lower nutritional value foods leaving N.B.’s most vulnerable students hungry.
As a result of the backlash Minister of Education, Brian Kenny, issued a statement last Thursday. Despite 711’s clear wording, he explained that “…the spirit of the policy should continue to allow existing fundraisers and the organization of extra-curricular, fundraising and holiday events that include treats. The policy should be applied with common sense and professional judgment.” To me, a common sense policy sounds like no policy at all, and this clarification has left me feeling as though 711’s goal has simply been undermined.
Every action causes a reaction and I’m hungry to know how these revisions could have been co-created with school food stakeholders and introduced in a way that would have excited instead of upset. I wonder what kind of possibilities or supports might have been generated to equip people with ideas and avenues to put this policy into action. Going forward, I wonder how we might still embrace the full intent of the revised policy and bridge the school food gap while nurturing positive food relationships among NB youth.
School food policy aside, I can’t help but ask if we’re focusing on the real issues here. When volunteer groups and school staff have to fundraise to buy basic supplies in the classroom, are we truly supporting education in the province? When junk food fundraisers are the ubiquitous choice and perceived as the most lucrative option – are we conscious of how normalized these foods have become? And when we need to advocate for full bellies instead of nourished bodies, (e.g. nutrient-poor foods to “support” and feed our most vulnerable students) are we aiming high enough? If people don’t have the money to feed themselves or choose a fresh food option because it costs more, we are failing in some other key areas. With the NB election right around the corner, I urge you to step back and question what we’re fighting for and against and to use these conversations as fodder for a new kind of action.
Jill Van Horne is the Network Development Coordinator with Our Food Southeast New Brunswick (SENB). Learn more about Our Food SENB: OurFoodSENB.ca
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram: @OurFoodSENB
Fresh food fundraising efforts have been coming up in our own backyards, across the country, and around the world. Here are some local ideas that have been gaining support:
- Healthy Eating & Physical Activity Coalition (HEPAC): “Healthy Fundraising”
- Agri-Industry Development & Advancement – NB Food Harvest Fundraising (purchase of NB produced food for fundraising activities)
- Nourish NS administers a local food box that raised $330,000 in gross revenues in 2016
Check out the Our Food Project NS: https://ecologyaction.ca/ourfood
Twitter: @OurFoodProject and @ecologyaction
Facebook: The Ecology Action Centre