Canada is the only G7 country and one of the only industrialized members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without a cross Canada funded and harmonized school food program. Instead, a mix of governmental and non-governmental funders support an inconsistent, largely informal, and volunteer-driven patchwork of programs across Canada. A cross-country school food program has not been seriously considered since the 1940s; however, in 2019, for the first time in over 70 years, the Government of Canada signaled its interest in developing such a program. A comprehensive school food program informed by research has the potential to improve health and food insecurity, teach food skills, and support local food systems.
Ph.D. Candidate and Arrell Scholar Amberley T. Ruetz recently published the results from the systematic survey of Canadian school food programs that she led in collaboration with Dr. Mary McKenna from the University of New Brunswick. This survey collected comprehensive data about provincially- and territorially-funded school food programs in 2018/19 and took stock of current practices and the scale of program coverage in the country. The findings were significant as a country-wide survey of school food programs had not been undertaken since the 1990s in Canada.
Currently, there is inequitable access to school food programs in Canada and thus, not only a need to address disparities but also a significant opportunity to do so in a way that brings the ‘farm-to-school.’ Canada has the opportunity to develop a world-class school food program for all children with locally-grown food at its core. Such a program has the potential to enhance the long-term vitality of local economies and food systems in Canada while building a legacy of improved public health and reduced healthcare expenditures for generations to come.
The graphic visualization shows some of the results from Amberley’s recent publication ‘Characteristics of Canadian school food programs funded by provinces and territories’ in Canadian Food Studies. This pan-Canadian research is part of Amberley’s Ph.D. dissertation that also examined farm-to-school approaches to school food procurement in Ontario, which was generously supported by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs under the supervision of Dr. John Smithers and Dr. Evan Fraser.