New Brunswick

'I can't buy an apple': High school students in Saint John plead for healthy lunches

Students at Harbour View High School in Saint John are trying to avoid a new cafeteria service arrangement that would see Chartwells return to the school.

Harbour View students fear return of Chartwells cafeteria service will mean end to tasty, nutritious offerings

Harbour View High assembled a new 'DIY' healthy eating plan in its cafeteria with help from parents and students, but they're worried their work will be undone. (Facebook)

Students at Harbour View High School in Saint John are trying to avoid a new cafeteria service arrangement that would see Chartwells return to the school.

They are petitioning the New Brunswick government to find a provider that promotes healthier choices.

"The food is not tasty" Jenna Dixon, Harbour View's student council president, said Monday in an interview with Information Morning Saint John. "They don't really serve vegetables. Like I can't get a salad, I can't buy an apple."

Kennedy McGeachy, a Grade 12 student, said it's possible to buy a bag of carrots.

"But I find they taste a little funky," she said. "They have potato bowls, which is mashed potatoes, gravy and cheese. It's not part of our nutrition values. It's a lot of carbs."

McGeachy launched an online petition last week that calls on the province to keep healthy, local food options at the school. More than 1,300 people have signed it so far.

She said teachers, parents and culinary technology students have been running a successful "DIY cafeteria service" since the high school ended its contract with Chartwells at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Every day, they offer one meal for $5, she said, which always includes a salad, milk or water, and entrees that range from samosas, to curry and jasmine rice, to pulled pork sandwiches.

Many of the ingredients are sourced from the school's community garden, McGeachy said.

"When we had Chartwells, there would be no line for the cafeteria, and for the past month it's been all the way down the hallway," she said.

Although the grassroots initiative is only meant to be temporary, students want the next provider to also keep local, fresh meals in mind.

"I'd like [to know] it's not going to be taken out of the freezer and just warmed up for us," Dixon said.

"We have our own garden we grow vegetables out of, so I would like to see someone use that. You see someone work all summer on that, and I would like to eat it."

'We are being stopped'

Chartwells declined the school's offer to use vegetables from its garden, McGeachy said.

"Their food is the exact opposite of our school's standards," she said in a letter to Premier Brian Gallant.

"They even installed a Slushie machine last year, and their standards of cleanliness caused our school to fail health inspections.

"We always complain about how our children are growing up eating junk and becoming overweight and obese. Here, Harbour View is trying to make a change in this cycle, and we are being stopped."

No contract yet

A new contract isn't set in stone, Dixon said, but Chartwells is the recommended tender.

"We're here to persuade them the other way," she said.

Zoë Watson, superintendent of Anglophone South School District, said no contract has been awarded to any company at this point, and a committee is still working through the "multistep" process of sifting through the proposal requests.

"We have been working in co-operation with Service New Brunswick for a provider for HVHS and our new Seaside Park Elementary School," Watson said in an e-mail to CBC News.

"I am aware of the healthy eating initiatives at HVHS and at other schools across ASD-S," she said.

District responsibility

The district must be in compliance with the government's Policy 711 on healthy foods in schools, said Watson, which covers all foods served from the cafeteria, to school activities and hot lunch programs.

Chartwells provides the food service contract for 23 schools in the district, she said.

Kelly Cormier, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said school districts are responsible for cafeterias in their schools and for entering into agreements with service providers "subject to policies and directives of the district education council."

Service New Brunswick manages the procurement process for the purchase of goods and services for the districts, Cormier said.