FOOD MATTERS: Economics impact healthy eating

About 30 years ago, we trustees wanted to know why the high school vending machines were full of junk food.

We were quickly shot down by the economic argument fired at us by the principals.

“We’ve signed contracts with suppliers. We need the money for extra-curricular sports. The kids won’t buy healthy snacks.”

We gave in.

I attended a parent committee meeting at an elementary school in my zone where one mother suggested that we offer more nutritious treats for Grade 7 students to buy. A furore broke out.

The Grade 7 teacher implied that he could not be responsible for depriving his students of cupcakes.

The parent persevered, though, and when it came to ordering candy canes for Christmas, had the nerve to suggest mandarin oranges instead.

Another uproar. As the politician at the table, I suggested taking a vote.

Surprise – only two very loud and insistent cupcake ladies voted against the oranges, the other dozen or so present carried the vote.

In the early ’80s, a committee of the university women’s club lobbied for quality, daily physical education in Nanaimo school district.

In those days, locally-developed programs could be negotiated with Victoria, and we got Action Nanaimo, a program which brought about 400 parent volunteers into the system, to help deliver games, aquatics, dance, and a couple of other categories, as promised by the provincial PE curriculum but never delivered.

An important aspect of Action Nanaimo was the parent-led nutrition committee, which, among other things, ran nutritious sports meet concessions.

We never heard of a single student complain that no junk food was served, that the hot dogs were served in whole-wheat buns with bean sprouts, that chunks of fruit replaced candy and pastries.

When I look at curriculum outlines today, they are merely lofty, vague goals, with no specific activities included.

There is still no real commitment to the fitness and nutrition programs our children need.

With the election of Bill Bennett and savage cutbacks, Action Nanaimo went down the tube, along with several others which had made ours a “lighthouse” district.

This last spring, Vancouver Island Health Authority adopted a new food system at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals, resulting in 34-per cent increase in patient satisfaction measured by reduction in waste (13 tonnes per month of food previously not eaten).

The food is assembled and cooked on site.

I thought I saw something about healthy foods for high school vending machines recently, but I could find nothing about actual programs in nutrition and physical education at the school district website.

There’s a Farm to School program delivered by Foodshare to some schools, but it’s clear that our school districts lack whatever brought change to Royal Jubilee and Victoria General.

Probably money.

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at: marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.

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