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4 school food program considerations based on insights from Newfoundland and Labrador

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Emily Doyle, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Science and the Environment, Grenfell campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This could be a shifting moment for Canada as the federal government moves to offer children at school access to a national school food program. 

Reflecting on my engagement with and study of the school food system in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I offer four considerations for rolling out a school food program that are relevant to other provinces and territories across Canada:

1. Not just a meal on a desk

Let’s think about “school food” as a system of factors, not simply as a program or a meal on a desk. Each school food program interconnects with factors unique to the school where it’s being implemented: the students in that school, the teachers, the parents, the surrounding food environment and the ecology, history and culture of that place. 

Failure to consider these factors is where programs can fail to meet the needs that we as a society are trying to address. 

2. Connections to people, land and place

School food programs offer a way to build multiple connections and relationships where people live. These programs act as a bridge between the hearts of community members who care and the minds and bellies of students at school. School food also connects people to place. In Newfoundland and Labrador, many schools do not serve fish due to food allergies, despite it being a place surrounded by ocean that exports seafood products around the world. 

The decision to ban fish from school food is closely connected to school governance. It begs the question: Who can best make the decision on what food can and cannot be served in a school? The quality of school food will be better if communities are informed and given resources to learn about how to offer the best possible food for the greatest number of people. 

By linking provincial food supply (whether it’s ocean- or land-based) to the food that we prepare and serve at school, we unlock other potential strategic connections. Newfoundland and Labrador depends on some potentially sustainable industries for its future quality of life, including tourism, agriculture and fisheries. 

These sectors all require a future workforce that’s healthy and informed. Connecting these sectors to the school food conversation can help connect demand and supply to food habits and local soil, climate and environment. 

Exemplary programs across the world can help inform the practice of using school food as an opportunity to connect children to place. 

3. Flexibility needed

A future school food program needs to consider the fluidity of schools and public system infrastructure. Over the past 20 years in Newfoundland and Labrador, the administration of schools has been constantly changing and evolving. Economic pressures have significantly affected public infrastructure, including the management and administration of schools. 

Schools are fluid, both in the ways they are administered but also in the way populations move through them, including changing administrative officials, students and families. What stays relatively stable is school infrastructure. 

Food programs will need to adapt to a range of schools, from newly built facilities to some older buildings. It’s also important to consider how schools connect to the surrounding municipal infrastructure: 

- How is the water?
- Is there land for school gardens?
- How close is the ocean?
- Are there bylaws in place that make unhealthy food accessible or inaccessible?
- How close do families live to the school?
- Where is the best place to invest to be responsive to a stable physical infrastructure and a dynamic human one? 

My research suggests that school food programs need to invest in human connections close to the infrastructure of schools. Members of communities care about and are invested in the spaces where they live.

While governments have tried to save money on education by consolidating management and governance of schools, some critical ties between the physical infrastructure of schools and the human infrastructure within communities have suffered. It makes a lot of sense to invest in local governance, ownership and partnerships to create connected school food programs that will be unique to every individual community.

4. Supporting Indigenous-led programs

Let’s look at and support Indigenous-led programs across the country such as those highlighted in this webinar. School food can be a tool towards reconciliation that is symbolic and powerful given the past harms done to Indigenous Peoples through education and health systems in this country. 

From my conversations with some Mi’kmaq communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, I have learned about the concept of thinking about seven generations. This long-term planning and envisioning can be an excellent tool to give space and time to create a school food system that works for people, place and the future.

Learning from inspiring research being done in Canada and beyond, we can monitor progress as we move towards a long-term vision and goal for future generations. 

After taking into account these four key points, where do we start as we envision a future school food program?

Prior to the federal government’s recent announcement, different combinations of citizens, non-profit organizations, schools, for-profit organizations and various levels of government worked to fill the gaps of what was an inadequately funded system. 

In the long term, how can we use these models of collaboration to inform the future? How do we better allocate private and public funds so schools are accountable to the communities they are fed from?

If we look to the food and health-care system transformations led by Indigenous communities, we see that governance and community control are a critical first step to fill gaps in the federal system that ultimately led us to where we are today: with as many as a million students across the country, at school, hungry for an alternative.


Emily Doyle's postdoc funding is from PhiLab (, MITACS, The Lawson Foundation and Metcalf Foundation.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article:

Emily Doyle, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Science and the Environment, Grenfell campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, The Conversation