Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Food Choice: Children voted with their feet.

School is out for another year and the report card on Policy Memorandum 150 has just trickled in. What's that you ask?

In a December 2011 posting, I commented on the Ontario Ministry of Education's commitment to making schools healthier places for students by instituting Policy Memorandum 150, cooked up by the McGuinty Liberals. As I suggested then, the Liberals of Ontario are out to shape your world. Their tool of choice is to eliminate choice by instituting universal bans. In that December posting, I suggested that this ban might invite some enterprising students to flout the new rule. But my abilities at prediction seem to be no better than the legislators who crafted and instituted this policy. Government action frequently leads to unintended consequences, and that is the case here. Schools across the province are reporting shortfalls in cafeteria income (not surprisingly) that is used to fund a variety of programs.

The largest school board in Canada, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is forecasting a $1.2-million shortfall in cafeteria revenue this past school year. The Ottawa-Carleton School Board estimates a loss of $900,000 in cafeteria revenue, while the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, which gets a commission from a private operator, has projected a $95,000 loss in revenue. This information is outlined in an article in the National Post this week.

In Toronto the shortfall would have been used to support cafeteria infrastructure and maintenance, in Ottawa cafeteria funds are used to pay for field trips, academic tournaments, clubs and sports teams. But the loss means parents can expect to pay more for their children's school activities. In Toronto alone, more than 30 money losing school cafeterias may be closed before next September.

Ontario was not the first jurisdiction to institute new rules for school food menus, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and British Columbia all do the same thing. Nova Scotia seems to have had more success in implementation, because it was done in stages over a number of years so students became educated and acclimatized to the changes. In Alberta, individual school boards are allowed to decide for themselves - a sensible course of action in my opinion.

The simple truth is that real food is cheaper and often more nutrient rich than so called junk food as the illustration above suggests. Students should be taught that lesson from their parents and their schools. But education is a gradual process and when choices are eliminated the wrong choice often become more appealing; that's human nature. Too bad there are not stats for the lunchtime boom in fast food restaurants near schools.

Early in May a couple of enterprising young lads posted a widely viewed YouTube video that expressed their displeasure with the Ontario ban. That was a clue certainly to what the financial report verified this week.

So what did McGuinty say about this story? “They put a man on the moon 40 years ago, don’t tell me that we can’t make healthy, delicious, tasty, attractive food for teenagers in the province of Ontario in 2012.” Brilliant.

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