Super School

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With the rise of electronics, children spend less time in the great outdoors. Not only does that mean that kids are more unfamiliar with their natural surroundings – as Jamie Oliver infamously discovered in the US on his television show, … Continue reading

Pumpkins (and potatoes) for Poverty

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Nothing says autumn in Cumberland more than Pumpkins for Poverty! I had the pleasure of attending the 6th annual event on Oct. 23, in downtown Amherst. Pumpkins for Poverty is the brainchild of Charlotte Ferguson of Empowering Beyond Barriers, an … Continue reading

Are the Sustainable Development Goals for Us?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) developed in 2000 were part of a 15-year agenda to address critical health and social issues in the developing world, such as extreme poverty, a range of health issues, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. Those 15 years are over, and the United Nations has embarked on a consultative process to develop the next 15-year agenda. The result is 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being for all, protect the environment, and address climate change.

There is one goal specific to food security to end hunger, promote food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, along with several other goals that are supportive (e.g., ending poverty everywhere, sustainable cities, ensuring healthy lives and well-being, sustainable consumption).

What makes these goals different from the MDGs?

1. They are universal. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are intended for everyone and all nations. They are shared goals for global progress. For countries like Canada, the SDGs could help chart how we are doing within our country, how we help other countries to achieve these goals, and how we can work together on challenges that no one country can tackle alone, such as climate change. This is intended to be both practical – ensuring nations and organizations work together on big problems – but is also intended to break down Global North/ South divides and ensure no one is left behind in any country.

2. They are interrelated. Many of the goals cross-reference language in other goals, recognizing that these complex social problems cannot be fixed through silo approaches. Progress relating to one goal will necessarily mean progress related to other goals. This can also support partnerships and initiatives working across different sectors, such as business, government, and community and policy areas, such as health, economics, trade, and environment.

The previous Conservative government made it clear that they intended to apply these goals only in an international development and aid context and not here at home. Our new Liberal government hasn’t even finalized a cabinet yet, so we’ll have to wait and see how the SDGs might be applied to both foreign and domestic policy.

But, these goals are not just about nations. They are intended to be universal – for citizens and community groups, municipalities, and provinces. If others in Canada adopt the SDG goals as a guiding framework, then they could become a useful tool to identify what we’re doing well and where we need to pay more attention, track progress and share learning.

It could also mean more sharing of challenges, successes and lessons learned in building food security. Across the globe, small to medium farm and fish enterprises face common challenges relating to access to land/licenses/equipment, capital, infrastructure, and markets, in addition to environmental and economic sustainability. Poverty and food insecurity are also found in every community and threaten health and well-being of individuals and families. Despite our differences, the solutions themselves may not be all that different. Working through the SDG framework offers the opportunity to connect “local” across the “global” and share best practices and innovations for food security for all.

Satya Ramen, Community Food Coordinator, Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre foodaction[at]ecologyaction.ca

Peer Pressure: We want a healthy school food program

We have invited guest blogger, Niki Black, to share some of the pressing food issues highlighted in the Eat Think Vote campaign, led by Food Secure Canada and others across Canada, in advance of the federal election on October 19, 2015. This week, Niki describes the importance of healthy food in schools for the future of our children. 

 

How well do you learn on an empty stomach? Many of us are familiar with skipping lunches or grabbing convenient and cheap foods that fill us up temporarily, but just don’t last. Lacking the healthy fuel we need, it’s hard to concentrate and work through the energy lows. The consequences are unhealthy and unsustainable, yet we expose our children to these same habits simply by virtue of sending them to school. Maybe that’s where we learned them, too.

Canadian schools are sites of learning, but we often don’t think about the role food plays in supporting that learning or what we’re learning about food. Any school has some level of diversity and this extends to the lunch that each child brings (or doesn’t) and eats (or doesn’t). School food environments can create a reliance on highly processed products and are unwilling hotbeds of inequality. In the lunchroom, there is nothing quite as effective as peer pressure. The temptation for “cool” lunches often yields slickly-packaged and less healthy foods, heavily marketed to appeal. Many kids simply don’t have a choice, with food insecurity affecting 1 in 6 children in Canada.

We lack the investment and policy guidance to provide one of the most fundamental conditions for growth: good nutrition. The Eat Think Vote campaign, introduced here, calls for a Universal Healthy School Food Program to address those inequities and ensure that every child has a healthy start.

Current school nutrition initiatives are a loose patchwork of provincial policies and charitable organizations such as Breakfast for Learning Canada, but these efforts are not nearly enough. Food insecurity leaves our children at risk for poor performance, peer conflict, and health problems that can persist over the course of their lives (such as obesity). Parents and schools are trying, but they require a solid foundation. A paradigm shift is long overdue.

The nutritional challenges of our schools are symptomatic of a much deeper pathology. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter released this scathing report after his mission to Canada in May 2012. In response, organizations such as Amnesty International turn a wary eye on us and wonder why this long-respected first world nation must rely on charity to patch its policy. Why don’t we transform those international condemnations into initiatives we can be respected for? Every person has the right to enough healthy food. Every single child.

Eat Think Vote calls for a 1 billion dollar cost-shared investment over five years to create just such a transformation. Reliable, sustainable meals at school can ease the pressure on family budgets, hectic morning schedules, students’ social lives, and the planet. Children will share nutritious food with their peers, thus fostering not only better learning opportunities but a deeper sense of equality and valuable food literacy to lay the foundation for healthy habits.

What might this look like? Imagine that every child has enough nutritious food to fuel their bodies and minds, and that every child understands how to make healthy choices, even if their circumstances don’t always allow it. Imagine what a nurturing role schools will play when gardens and cooking programs are as common as lockers and monkey bars, and children can eat together and respectfully accept that people have a wide range of food needs and cultural preferences. How might our nation’s food landscape heal when these food literate children use and share their knowledge both now and as they grow? We have a golden opportunity to create an ideal environment for sustainable learning and growth.

Sound appetizing? The election is almost upon us, but there is still time to sign the petition, share on social media, and get your chosen federal candidate involved. Let’s demand the best possible outcomes for one of our most valuable resources – our new generations. Today’s children will inherit our national challenges, and how we prepare them matters to everyone.

Poverty Bites Us All: We Want Zero Hunger in Canada

We have invited guest blogger, Niki Black, to share some of the pressing food issues highlighted in the Eat Think Vote campaign, led by Food Secure Canada and others across Canada, in advance of the federal election on October 19, 2015. This week, Niki challenges our assumptions of what’s possible and delves into the issue of food insecurity, caused by a range of factors, the most significant of which is low income. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more on food and the federal election.

 

Hunger. The word denotes a lack, and Canada has a glaring one indeed – we lack a national food policy. This hurts every one of us, and we cannot drive effective change without the unifying strength of federal policy. The Eat Think Vote campaign aims to make food security an election issue. To end hunger we must end poverty, which is one of the largest obstacles to zero hunger yet also, not such a daunting task to fix as one might think. The answer lies in numbers.

Today, 4 million Canadians are food insecure, but the true number is likely much higher. Anyone without reliable access to adequate nutritious food falls into this category, and although the statistics vary as do the issues across our vast country, we all feel the creeping effects. Tax dollars are spent on the symptoms of poverty, including a rapidly-building healthcare crisis, a sputtering economy, and a culture of blame for this systemic failure imposed on some of our most vulnerable through a welfare system that keeps people in poverty when it should be raising them up. How much cheaper could it be to provide an income floor? Eat Think Vote demands that our new government explore the feasibility of a basic income guarantee for every Canadian.

No one likes to admit that they must skip meals, or are forced to choose the empty calories of junk food because nourishing foods are inaccessible. Hunger is an unsettling subject, and often stays hidden due to stigma. To truly heal food insecurity and all the ugliness it entails, we must address the systemic causes. Canada is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, yet we lack the policy tools to uphold our commitment. Now that’s embarrassing. The absence of a unified food policy is a fundamental national failure, one that gnaws at our society and all the ways it could strengthen and grow. Access to adequate nutritious food is a basic human right – we have the ability to ensure this, we just need the leadership. It’s time our governments took a keen interest in the cupboards of the nation.

A past experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba with the “Mincome” in the 1970’s, and another coming up in Utrecht, NL, are small-scale road tests of the basic income guarantee. Today, the idea has returned to gain steam here in Canada. In Alberta, two influential mayors have expressed interest in basic income programs for Calgary and Edmonton and just recently, the Canadian Medical Association tabled the idea  at their Annual General Meeting right here in Halifax. A basic income guarantee is only one solution, and has not yet been tried in conjunction with another, the living wage – where employers take a dynamic interest in the local cost of living and pay their staff accordingly. Between these two, there is much room for bold new ideas and collaboration.

To help, you can sign the petition, share on social media, host an event, or urge your chosen candidate to take action in Ottawa.  Through the Eat Think Vote campaign, we have an opportunity to make poverty a priority issue. Let’s seize this moment. A government’s bottom line should be its nation’s people.

~Niki Black