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Bill C-322: support from the Coalition for Healthy School Food - Brent Mansfield’s opening statement to HUMA Committee Meeting - May 23, 2024

Updated: Jun 6

By: Brent Mansfield, Elementary School Teacher, Co-Founder of LunchLAB and BC Chapter of Coalition for Healthy School Food

On Thursday, May 23, I had the pleasure of being invited to be a witness before the HUMA (The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities) on Bill C-322 (An Act to Develop a National Framework to Establish a School Food Program). I traveled to Ottawa and was honored to be given the opportunity to speak to the Committee in person and meet with Members of Parliament (MPs). Not only did I talk about my experience as a teacher, I was also pleased to amplify the submission that the Coalition for Healthy School Food made, which you can read here.

You can see my presentation here. Here are my speaking notes:

Opening remarks

In October, I ran 200 laps - over 92 km - around my elementary school to raise awareness for the need for federal investment in a school food program for Canada, calling on the Government of Canada to invest the $1 billion for 5 years they committed towards a school food program for Canada. Then, in November, I ran 200 laps – nearly 30 km – around the lawn of Parliament.

It is a real honour to be invited here today. I would like to express my strong support for Bill C-322, which is even more important now than when it was first tabled in March 2023 because of the federal government’s recent investment of $1 billion over five years in Budget 2024. Bill C-322 will provide a necessary framework for how the federal government can work in partnership with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to ensure the health and well-being of all Canadian children.

I urge all of you to support this Bill, for the sake of Canada’s children, as well as the school communities and local food economies that will benefit. I know that supporting school food is a non-partisan issue and one that everyone in a school, neighbourhood, or community can get behind.

I am an elementary school teacher, at a diverse, urban elementary school on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in what is now known as the West End of Vancouver.

As a teacher, I co-founded an educational lunch program called LunchLAB, a partnership with a local charity, Growing Chefs. LunchLAB empowers students to prepare food for themselves and their peers with the mentorship of a team of Chefs-In-Residence. LunchLAB makes lunch an important learning opportunity rather than seeing it as an interruption in the school day.

I see the power of school food programs as a teacher, which gives me the conviction and drive to advocate for all students to be able to benefit. Every week I see up close how a school food program supports all students to thrive. When students are well-fed during their school day, they are in a better position to learn and are so much happier to come to school.

LunchLAB demonstrates how school food programs can support students to learn food skills,  develop food literacy and improve their willingness to try new foods, including generously serving themselves vegetables and fruits from the salad bar. School food programs are indeed a social equalizer, and I can see this clearly when students from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds sit down and share a meal.

As a passionate school food advocate, I’ve worked with the Coalition for Healthy School Food, which includes nearly 450 member organizations and endorsers in every province and territory. I had the opportunity to be part of the founding meetings of the Coalition in Halifax in 2014. Several years later I was part of the formation of the B.C. Chapter, which through years of collective advocacy contributed to the B.C. Government including $214 million for 3 years in school food programs.

The Coalition has been advocating for the development of a universal healthy school food program that is cost-shared with the provinces and territories, following key Guiding Principles, which are based on research and best practices to ensure school food programs live up to their full potential.

These Guiding Principles are what unites this vast network from coast to coast to coast, which includes nonprofit school food providers, national health, education and Indigenous organizations, school boards, cities, municipal health boards, and many others.

They are outlined in the brief submitted by the Coalition for Healthy School Food, which I encourage you to review.

Closing remarks

We need a national framework that is visionary and reflects the broad Guiding Principles laid out by the Coalition and reflected in the What We Heard report from the National School Food Policy Engagements.

I was pleased to see that Bill C-322 includes:

  1. Ensuring programs are in line with Canada’s Food Guide As the Food Guide says, “healthy eating is more than the foods you eat”, which includes a focus on mindful eating, enjoying food, and sharing meals together. School food programs are also an opportunity to foster a healthy food environment, and promote mental health and wellbeing.

  2. The rights and priorities of Canada’s Indigenous peoples Indigenous communities must play key roles in designing and implementing school food programs in their communities as well as other locations where First Nations, Métis or Inuit children comprise a significant portion of the student population.

  3. Fostering local and sustainable food systems Encouraging school food programs to set local and sustainably produced food purchasing targets would create jobs for Canadian farmers, and support community economic development.

  4. Promoting food education  To support the new school food programs to be integrated into the curriculum and enable food literacy and experiential food skills education. Programs should be conceived, designed, and run with meaningful input from students, providing lots of opportunities for learning and curricular integration. School food programs provide many opportunities for student involvement, in preparation, serving, clean-up, all while developing food skills and knowledge.

I also support a few recommendations from the Coalition for Healthy School Food of what could be included to strengthen Bill C-322:

  1. A commitment to ensure no marketing to kids There needs to be safeguards against marketing branded or highly processed foods and beverages to children through school food programs. 

  2. A commitment to Canada-wide program evaluation for consistent reporting Collecting and sharing data will help measure progress and support program design and implementation. 

  3. A commitment to a universal program for all children. Aiming at universality is critical so that progressively ALL children in Canada have access to school food over time. Universal programs where every child has access reduces stigma, an important goal recognized in the Bill. From my experience with LunchLAB, I have seen how school food programs benefit all students. Research shows that the diet quality of Canadian children across the entire socio-economic spectrum during school hours is poor. Less than one-third of children under 12 years of age eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruit daily, and at least 1/3 of school-aged children in Canada report eating vegetables and fruits less than once daily. All students should have the opportunity to benefit from school food programs, especially when they include developing food skills and literacy, the opportunity to share a meal with peers and contribute to their school community. As a teacher, this is not something I believe some students should be left out of. All students stand to benefit.

I would like to reiterate my strong support for Bill C-322. I encourage your committee to unanimously support Bill C-322.

I encourage you and all the political parties in Parliament to vote to pass Bill C-322 as soon as possible.

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