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

Freezing Your Harvest: Beans n’ Herbs

Raise your hand if you ever forget about those veggies in your fridge and before you know it things are a little too wilted, or worse – no longer good to eat (mine’s up). Usually around this time of year gardens are overflowing with beans, tomatoes, and many other crops that can be overwhelming to use as fast as things ripen. Freezing is one of the quickest ways to save fresh foods from going to waste. If you are lucky to have large freezer space, it can also be an affordable option for preserving bulk produce to last you throughout the winter.  Last week at Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre we experimented with a few different freezing techniques with beans and herbs harvested mostly from the Bayers Westwood and HUGS community garden where some participants have plots. The frozen herbs were left at the Bayers Westwood freezer for use in a future cooking workshop this fall or winter. We’ll let you know how they taste!

Some veggies are fine to throw in the freezer as is and their flavour will be well preserved (e.g., peppers and tomatoes). For other veggies like beans, corn, peas, and squash it is recommended to blanch before freezing. Blanching is the term used for pre-cooking (or par-boiling) produce for a short period of time before freezing. Without getting too complicated, some veggies have enzymes in them that when frozen cause veggies to lose their flavour. Blanching these veggies prevents this reaction when frozen. Is it worth it? I think so. Although if you are in a pinch and think you’ll use the veggies in the near future, then some veggies might be fine if they are simply chucked in the freezer.
Freezing beans:
1. Wash beans and cut off ends (cutting off ends is a preference based decision)
2. Place beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes (tip – if you are using purple beans, take them out when then they turn green!)
3. Place beans in ice cold water (if you don’t have ice cubes, be sure to use cold tap water). This prevents the beans from over cooking.
4. After 5-8 minutes the beans should be cooled down and ready to remove from cold water
5. Air dry the beans, either by placing on a clean cloth or using a handy salad spinner. It’s okay if the beans aren’t totally dry, but avoid placing beans in the freezer when they still have lots of drips on them. This prevents freezer burn and beans from sticking together if you’d like to only take a certain amount of beans out at a time when you are ready to cook with them. I find it really useful to dry veggies like whole tomatoes before placing them in the freezer.
6. Place beans in a freezer safe and air tight container (ziplock bag, yogurt containers, etc). Remove as much as much air as possible from freezer bags. You can use a food vacuum sealer, or try a nifty trick one of the participants showed us using a straw to suck out the air (see photo below).

Beans should last 8+ months in the freezer.


Freezing Herbs:
Freezing herbs is new to me. I typically dry most of my herbs for winter cooking and teas. It’s easy, doesn’t take up freezer space, and I like to see my herbs neatly lined up on my shelf! Last year my family member who was a long time chef recommended freezing my herbs instead. His reason: the difference in flavour is ten-fold. Since then I also learned that some of the essential oils in herbs are better preserved when frozen. I admit I am in the process of drying some herbs or teas and cooking (they are still great for cooking), but I also have basil and other herbs in the freezer ready to go for garnish on foods and pesto.
There are a few different approaches to freezing herbs out there, and many have to do with preference. We experimented with two ways to freeze herbs:
Rolling herbs in parchment or wax paper:
1. Gently wash and dry herbs, and break off the leaves or leave stems on – up to you!
2. Place herbs in parchment paper and avoid overlapping herbs
3. Role the parchment paper tightly with herbs, and place it in a freezer bag – voila!
When you are ready to use the herbs, simply unroll the paper as you need herbs.



Freezing herbs in ice cube trays with oil (This is my favourite!)
1. Chop herbs
2. Place herbs in ice cube trays
3. Pour oil over the herbs and freeze (you can use melted butter too. Water is also an option, but this doesn’t keep the flavor as well and oil is great for throwing right in a pan for cooking)
4. You can leave the herbs in the ice cube trays, or place the ice cubes in a separate container.
You can also blend the herbs with oil and pour this mixture in the ice cube trays. I find the above way to be the quickest. Depending on how much herbs are in each ice cube tray, this is typically enough for one serving of soup, pasta, etc, to make a tasty difference to your meal. You might need a couple of the smaller ice cubes per serving (like the ones below). If you are concerned with your herbs changing colour when frozen (e.g., basil will turn black), then you can also blanch some herbs for a very short period of time before freezing. I typically skip this step.



Jen Organ, Community Food Programmer with the EAC

Additional Resources:
You Can Too! Canning, Pickling, and Preserving the Maritime Harvest by Elizabeth Pierce (book).
National Centre for Home Food Preservation:

Both of the above resources include specifics on blanching times for different vegetables.

Organic Week is Almost Here: September 19-27, 2015

This year marks the 6th anniversary of Canada’s national Organic Week. From September 19-27, schools, community groups, growers and gardeners, retailers, restaurants and many more will celebrate Organic Week with learning events and festive activities.

Did you know that the total value of the organic market has tripled since 2006? Nearly 60% of Canadians buy organic products every week and 98% said that they planned to increase or maintain their current purchases of organic food in the year to come. In Atlantic Canada, organics are growing, with almost 200 certified producers and processors, and opportunities for many more new and aspiring organic farmers and food providers to contribute to this thriving sector.  Of course, organic practices are also at the heart of many backyard and community gardeners in growing their own food.

Want a refresher on what “organic” is all about?  The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) is the local partner for Organic Week activities in Atlantic Canada and is hosting three community info sessions and dialogues in Grand Pre, Truro and Halifax on “What’s organic about organic?” The sessions will explore:

  • What does organic really mean?
  • How to know if it’s organic?
  • Who grows organic food in Nova Scotia?
  • Where to find organic foods?
  • Why organic matters?

Additional Local Links and Resources to stay informed and get involved!

September is here! It’s time for the 50% Local Food Club

50% Local Food Club Logo

Last September, eaters of all ages stepped up to the plate in support of local agriculture – more than 3,000 Nova Scotians committed to sourcing 50% of their diet from local producers.

The 50% Local Food Club is back and you can register to participate as an individual, family or business to commit to sourcing at least 50% of your diet from local foods for the month of September. You can find online resources, such as recipes and a one-week sample meal plan featuring healthy, locally available foods. By committing to eat 50% locally, we put money into the pockets of our local producers and enjoy the delicious bounty of food grown in our province – everyone eats and everyone wins.

Here are five easy ways to step up to the plate:

#1 Tag a friend and challenge them to join the 50% Local Food Club. Email them, tweet or share our website link on their Facebook wall.

#2 Join the conversation about local food in Nova Scotia using #LocalFoodClub.
Get engaged and stay engaged by following us on Facebook (Farmers’ Markets Nova Scotia), Twitter and Instagram (@MarketFreshNS)

#3 Become a local food advocate – tell the world you’re eating 50% local for the month of September and invite other Nova Scotians to do the same! If you’d like an opportunity to be more involved, then get in touch (marketfreshns[at]

#4 Host a local food potluck for friends & family and source 50% of your ingredients from local food producers. Share your photos on social media using #LocalFoodClub.

#5 Organize a 50% Local Food Club event in your community and register your event on the website.

Does food matter to you? Join the Eat Think Vote Movement


Let’s make food an election issue!

Food Secure Canada and its partners across the country are engaging Canadians about food during this federal election. Canada requires a food policy cutting across health, environment, education and the economy to address the interrelated issues of hunger, unsustainable food production, climate change, and unhealthy diets.

Collectively, we are calling for the creation of a national food policy where no one goes hungry and all Canadians have access to healthy, just, and sustainable food. Priority action areas include:

  • Ensuring adequate income supports, so no one goes hungry.
  • Solutions to the food crisis in the North and fostering food sovereignty for Indigenous communities experiencing this unprecedented situation.
  • Incentives and better supports for new farmers to ensure the future of sustainable food in Canada, addressing issues such as an aging farming population, increasing farm debts, and financial barriers faced by new farmers.
  • A national universal healthy school food program as a foundation for health, wellness and learning.

Every level of government, along with First Nations, community groups, food producers, businesses, and citizens play an important role in designing and implementing food security policies for a sustainable future.

You can:

Step Up To The Plate! Join the 50% Local Food Club this September

50% Local Food Club Logo

Farmers’ Markets Nova Scotia has launched the second 50% Local Food Club! A province-wide, month-long initiative designed to increase purchasing and consumption of local food, the 50% Local Food Club aims to support and celebrate food producers and farmers in our province. Last September, eaters of all ages stepped up to the plate in support of local agriculture – more than 3,000 Nova Scotians committed to sourcing 50% of their diet from local producers!

Here are a few words from 2014 participants:
I want my son to know that food comes from people with families who live near us”
It was a good way to challenge our family to think about where our food comes from”
Hopefully I will be buying more than 50% of my groceries locally by next year. Great initiative!”

Whether you’re already passionate about eating locally or new to the idea, be a part of this awesome initiative. How? Great question! The first step is to register, making the commitment to source 50% of your diet from local producers for the month of September. From there, browse the website for recipes, places to eat and buy local, and find events in your region – you will find plenty of resources to keep you engaged with local food all month long! Register to participate!

Follow the campaign online on Twitter & Instagram using #LocalFoodClub and Facebook.

Berries Everywhere!


With the help Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) summer students Morgan Vance and Thomas Brine, berry patches were installed at four community gardens in Cumberland County over the summer.  Berry patches, ranging in size from 8 to 24 bushes, were planted at … Continue reading