New Brunswick

Students applauded for push to fix 'broken' food system in schools

A student-led fight for healthier cafeteria lunches at a Saint John high school is part of an "inspiring" trend of school communities taking ownership of their health, the head of the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network said Wednesday.

Saint John school's petition for healthy lunches is 'powerful action,' says food security network

The 'DIY cafeteria service' currently running at Harbour View High in Saint John features vegetables grown in the school's garden. (Facebook)
A Saint John high school's student-led fight for healthier cafeteria lunches is part of an "inspiring" trend of school communities taking ownership of their health, the head of the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network said Wednesday.

"Students are not often consulted when it comes to what food is served at their cafeteria, those decisions are made higher up," Laura Reinsborough said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

"So the fact that they're recognizing it does have an impact, and that they want to see some change, I applaud them … They know the system isn't going to make it easy for a local-level business to jump in and submit proposals, so they're voicing concerns."

Students at Harbour View High are trying to avoid a new cafeteria service arrangement that would see former provider Chartwells return to the school.

The current meal plan includes a salad, milk or water, and entrees that range from samosas to curry and jasmine rice to pulled pork sandwiches. (Facebook)
A new contract isn't set in stone, but student council president Jenna Dixon said Chartwells is the recommended tender.

The online petition to the New Brunswick government, demanding that it finds a provider that promotes healthier choices, had grown to 1,500 signatures by Wednesday morning.

This action follows months of a popular "DIY cafeteria service" featuring food grown from the school's community garden, which will soon be coming to an end.

Laura Reinsborough, the director of the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network, says that with one in five children going hungry at some point, the food system in the province is not working. (Submitted)

Reinsborough says the temporary program is another example of progressive food initiatives popping up in the province's school system.

Some of the most successful cafeteria programs running right now are a product of local solutions, she said.

The Francophone South school district and a co-operative of farmers in southeastern New Brunswick joined together to put more local food on the menu in school cafeterias this year.

The Collaboration in Agrifood New Brunswick, a food delivery market, got provincial and federal backing to help feed students fresh food grown by local farmers and producers.

King Street Elementary School, a newly opened school in Miramichi, is running a successful community-based cafeteria program called New School Food Services. 

And the Anglophone East School District highlighted healthy eating, and local food as priorities in its latest request for proposals, Reinsborough said.

'Empowering' changes

"I'm seeing fantastic community initiatives to address concerns about school food," she said.

"It's an empowering place for change to come about. … There's [currently] something missing that ensures all New Brunswick children are able to get good healthy meals at school, and my hope is this can fix our broken food system."

Zoë Watson, superintendent of Anglophone South School District, told CBC News a contract for Harbour View and Seaside Park Elementary has not been awarded to any company at this point, and a committee is still working through the "multistep" process of sifting through the proposal requests.

Harbour View High students Kennedy McGeachy, left, and Jenna Dixon fear their access to healthy, local food will end with the potential return of Chartwells to their school. (Sarah Trainor/CBC)
Kennedy McGeachy, the Grade 12 student who launched the petition, said the students want to work with a small local company.

"Working with a small business would better suit our needs, because as we saw with Chartwells, all of their decisions were made by the head office, which we were not in touch with," she said.

Chartwells declined the school's offer to use vegetables from its garden, McGeachy said, because their meal plans are predetermined by the head office.

"With small, local companies, we would be working side by side with their owners, which would help us to keep our food exactly how we would like it."

With files from Information Morning Saint John