Original post from The Toronto Star.
School meals and food literacy — our knowledge and skills regarding food — are not partisan issues. We’re counting on all parties to act together.
By Peggy O’Neil and Alicia Martin (Contributors)
All four of Ontario’s main political parties are showing leadership when it comes to school food and “food literacy” — our knowledge and skills in relation to food.
This is timely, since the federal government recently committed $1 billion over five years to developing a national program for nutritious meals in schools. And since 2020, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has worked to integrate food literacy into the province’s school system.
As researchers who study the impacts of school food programs and food literacy, we are excited about this momentum. Food literacy provides young people with tools to actualize their health and well-being and to participate in food systems. Access to nutritious food supports the well-being of children and youth, and helps make sure they are ready to learn.
In October 2020, PC MPP Daryl Kramp gained wide support for introducing Bill 216, the Food Literacy for Students Act, which proposed making “hands-on skills learned in kitchens and gardens” a requirement from grades 1-12. While the bill sailed through first and second readings, further readings stopped when the government was prorogued in September 2021.
Nonetheless, Kramp and the ministry of education ensured food literacy was incorporated into the revised science and technology curriculum for grades 1-8 and the new Grade 9 science course, and have spoken about their commitment to reintroducing Bill 216.
On May 26, Sustain Ontario, Brescia University College and the Coalition for Healthy School Food hosted an all-party forum on school food and food literacy. We asked candidates how they would: advance food literacy as mandatory for grades 1-12; strengthen the conditions for experiential food literacy education; address Ontario’s annual investment in the Student Nutrition Program to accommodate rising food costs and greater demand; and work with the federal government on a national, universal healthy school food program.
We were pleased to be joined by candidates from Ontario’s Green, Liberal and NDP parties. All were enthusiastic about the topic and emphasized that school meals and food literacy are issues that cross party lines. The candidates spoke to the need for more education about food and healthy eating, and the necessity of teacher training and funding for infrastructure. They also spoke about the valuable school food and food literacy programs in their ridings.
In their party platform, the Greens have committed to “enhanced curriculum content on critical environmental topics such as food literacy and climate change” and to “implement a province-wide nutritious school lunch program.” The Liberals have committed to “providing a free Ontario-grown breakfast for every K-12 student who needs one by expanding the Student Nutrition Program.” The NDP platform makes commitments to invest in and support the broader school system, especially the environment.
As Victor Hugo once wrote, nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come. We believe the time has come for ideas about school food and food literacy. We are counting on all parties to act together for the health and well-being of our students, and for Ontarians to consider these important issues during the upcoming election.
Peggy O’Neil is an assistant professor of food, leadership and social change at Brescia University College. Alicia Martin is a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Guelph.
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