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Nourish Nova Scotia pushing for a national school food program through online campaign

The advocacy group is calling on the federal government to invest in healthy food for youth
Nourish Nova Scotia (Facebook)

When it comes to nourishing school children, Canada is falling far behind. It's the only G7 country to not have a nationally funded school food program, something Margo Riebe-Butt finds "appalling."

Riebe-Butt is the executive director of Nourish Nova Scotia, an advocacy group urging the federal government to support a school food program, while highlighting what municipalities and jurisdictions in Nova Scotia are doing right. 

On federal level, "we're failing kind of miserably," she told NEWS 95.7's Sheldon McLeod. 

Currently the Nova Scotia provincial government invests around $2 million a year in school food programs. 

"I don't think the problem is so much at our municipal levels or even our provincial level," she said. "Certainly the federal government is not stepping up and putting anything into the pot."

Riebe-Butt and her team at Nourish have been working on campaigning the federal government, and are currently petitioning the federal minister of health. Nova Scotia has gathered 239 signatures, sitting behind Ontario with 246 signatures. 

"One thing that MP's told us really loud and clear is that no-one is calling them about school food," she said. Riebe-Butt wanted to change this and get people across Canada concerned and involved. 

"This is only the tip of the iceberg," said Riebe-Butt.  "We only did a soft launch of that campaign so far because it is before Christmas and people certainly have their eyes and ears on other things right now, but we'll be looking to do quite a big push and you can expect to hear quite a bit of noise about it." 

Riebe-Butt sees an investment in school food programs and providing nutritious food to youth as an investment in healthcare. 

"$13.8 billion was spent last year in Canada on direct diet-related disease. We're not putting the money into the front end, the health promoting efforts that we need to do to keep people healthy and to grow healthy citizens in this country," she said.

School food programs can take the burden off of families who may have a food insecure household. Riebe-Butt says this isn't the only reason students come to school hungry. Long commutes, early morning practices, or early morning drop offs all create situations where students aren't properly nourished for a full day of school. 

"Across the province in rural areas especially, kids are on a bus for an hour and a half at a time and even if they've eaten when they left the house, they're starving when they get to school." 

Nourish Nova Scotia has helped implement breakfast programs at schools across the province, and provide a number of resources to help support the programs. According to Nourish's website, 93 per cent of public schools in Nova Scotia have a breakfast program. Riebe-Butt wants to see that reach 100 per cent. 

"It's not just about feeding a child a meal, it's actually providing an opportunity for them to do better in their participation and educational outcome." 

Danielle McCreadie

About the Author: Danielle McCreadie

Danielle spent a year freelancing for various publications in Halifax and did a brief stint at before making the move to radio.
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