food for, as, of thought April 2024

Food is something we all have in common. Most of us recharge body and mind 3 times a day plus a few snacks in between. The snack drawer is topped up on the regular behind my desk. I eat. Therefore I am. Apologies to Descartes.

Our relationships to and with food come in many different forms. There are many who follow diets based on religious affiliation, allergies, health issues, or life choices too. In a past post, I shared a personal passion for snack foods, and how it felt like I was eating my feelings at times. For this post, I want to take a different approach by asking you to think about food security and how this is affecting us all at school. 

Let’s start with some observations and info

  1. Not everyone eats breakfast before they come to school. That goes for staff as much as students. One might be a function of time, but it might be a function of funds as well. Nevertheless, kids are coming to school hungry and it is showing in many different ways from lacklustre levels of energy to higher levels of distraction. Our school breakfast program is open twice a week and serves hot nutritious meals for 30 to 50 students before the first bell chimes. At recess everyone has access to fresh fruit or whole grain snacks who may be in need of a boost before lunchtime. 
  2. Not everyone who brings a lunch to school is going to have another meal until the same time tomorrow. At our school there are always extra pizza slices or pasta for students who, known to staff, might be in need when lunch is a little light that day. 
  3. Not everyone has a parent or guardian to prepare a meal for them to start or end the day. We are all aware of the hours families and caregivers must put in at work to be able to afford it all. Sometimes there are reasons when life at home has shifted, and students are left fending a little more often for themselves when that happens. 
  4. There are students in our buildings whose families are relying on food banks to make sure that there is something in the cupboards.

Food is expensive. Healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, are not always an option as costs increases are continually disproportionate to most incomes. With food bank use steadily rising, access to food is becoming an equity issue as much as access to affordable housing and living wages. Not everyone is managing in this current economy when shelter, food, fuel, and necessities costs are at all time highs.

How does this look in your school? What supports are in place for students who are hungry where you teach? How do we support learners during difficult times? What if every school was able to offer breakfast and lunch programs? 

The times have changed for all of us. Being mindful of this has led me to a deeper understanding of what students and their families are facing now. 

 food = privilege

Based on what some of my students present and past have shared, it seems they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends as they do at school. What is the right amount of activity for a balanced and enjoyable life? It seems that they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends than they do at school? 

Since some students are out later in the evenings, they are coming to school tired and hungry because of sleeping in later and being rushed at the begining of each day choosing not to eat or unable to eat.This is especially difficult for students at early start schools. A recent student survey at my school echoed this fact from many students. 

What happens then is that this cycle, on repeat, can take a toll on students very quickly at a time when their physical and cognitive development depends on enough sleep and regular meals. The brain and body need time to consolidate the days events and recover to do it all again the next morning. 

Even with breakfast clubs, snack programs, and my own personal stash of peanut free healthy snacks to share with students; we are not addressing the systemic issues related to hunger in our communities. Kids can’t learn when they are exhausted and or hungry.

It is not a far-fetched notion to equate off the chart home prices in our neighbourhoods with the fact that students are not getting enough to eat. In fact the rise in housing costs, interest rates, and job insecurity have become greater factors in this problem more than ever before.

Recent statistics from the Hunger Report show that food bank usage in Ontario is steadily increasing. The reality is that more students are coming to our schools hungry. I am worried that we are near a tipping point and have yet to realize the social, mental, and physical costs around access to food are having and will have on our students over time. 

An early April 2024 announcement, by the Federal government, to address food security in the classroom has come as a timely support for this crucial health issue. As a result, there is now funding available to provide an additional 400 000 meals per year above and beyond current amounts, but still only scratches the surface of a larger issue. 

At my school, we are holding two, very well attended, breakfast club days each week. We are also managing to provide healthy snack options including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but the funds for programs like ours are rarely infinite. The additional funds might well serve to expand the duration and number of students served while a more permanent solution can be implemented. 

In a recent response to the Federal government’s commitment to fight hunger in our schools, the Canadian Teachers Federation shared, “We know that the lack of access to food disproportionately impacts children from lower-income families and those from racialized and Indigenous communities.” It is scary to think that access to food could ever be equitable to privilege in this era. Yet, it is now a keystone issue throughout the education system. 

A recent ETFO media release joined in calling on the current provincial government to distribute these crucial funds in support of at risk students. I ask you all to add your voices in support of students and join in the fight against food insecurity in our schools.



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