[PLATED PLANET] by Natalie Singer ~ Local author sheds light on the benefits of a national lunch program
I have been preparing food to serve to others since the days of my Easy Bake Oven. Never has the planning been more a matter of guesswork and the prospect of rejection caused greater trepidation than now as I begin packing school lunches for my daughter, who entered Junior Kindergarten this fall.
Guesswork, because what she says she wants on the one hand, and what she actually eats on the other, often constitute discrete categories. Trepidation at the prospect of opening her lunchbox at the end of the day and finding that she has only eaten enough to decide she doesn’t like it – a frequent occurrence over the test run of packing lunches for day camp this past summer.
It doesn’t get much more “local” than your one-of-a-kind four-year-old. Always mindful of Chomsky’s dictum, whenever acting locally I try to begin by thinking globally. How do parents around the globe feed their kids school lunches? What might Canadian families learn from them?
What’s for Lunch? by local author Andrea Curtis, offers valuable insight into how schoolchildren are fed around the world. Andrea is a writing teacher, a volunteer at The Stop Community Food Centre and the mother of two boys. I spoke with her about what she learned and her findings may surprise you.
Most countries around the globe have a national lunch program and Canada is the only G8 member without one. Regional initiatives exist but they are the exception. The vast majority of Canadian kids bring a packed lunch to school.
According to Curtis, countries that serve fresh lunches have tracked benefits including greater student focus, higher academic achievement and improved overall health. In some developing countries, a subsidized lunch can mean the difference between a child living in poverty getting an education or not.
Brazil has created an enviable “Zero Hunger Program” that combines money from the federal government supplemented by municipalities, of which the school meal is just one part. With 47 million children between the ages of 6 to 14 receiving lunch, Curtis said, “it has reduced malnutrition in a big way.”
In countries such as Japan and France, educators see a communal lunch as an opportunity for socializing, learning and sharing. A simple shared meal can create dialogue about culture and tradition, help level the playing field between rich and poor, and contribute to solving the obesity epidemic.
Sadly in Canada, we have not embraced this concept and lunch is simply something to get through. Food is connected to so many things and in a city as culturally diverse as Toronto, there is so much we and our kids can learn.
For more info on Andrea Curtis : andreacurtis.ca
“Taken from What’s for Lunch?: How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World (Red Deer Press, 2012). Photograph copyright Yvonne Duivenvoorden.” Author Photo Credit: Karri North