School food fight

The battle over healthier school meals is not unique to the United States.

There is an interesting battle going on between high school students and the government—and even among elected officials themselves—over whether the government has the right to dictate to students what they can eat. Two students have even taken the fight to YouTube, posting a video in which they interview fellow students about their food preferences and what they think about the government’s mandate on healthier food in school cafeterias.

But this particular drama isn’t being played out here in the United States. Instead, it’s happening in our neighbor to the north, Canada. In the wake of an edict by the Ontario provincial government banning junk food in schools, cafeterias are reportedly going bankrupt, students are decrying the loss of their “freedom of choice,” and provincial leaders are squabbling among themselves over whether the government has made the right move.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is unapologetic. He told reporters last week that schools simply have to “be more creative” with menus to make the healthier food guidelines work.
“We put a man on the moon 40 years ago,” he was quoted in The National Post. “Don’t tell me that we can’t make healthy, delicious, tasty attractive food for teenagers in the province of Ontario in 2012.”

Personally, I find the political bickering to be the most interesting aspect of this “food fight.” Critics say the mandate was ill-conceived. Defenders say school districts simply aren’t trying hard enough. The peacemakers argue that the plan is a good one, but better education is needed to help students make informed decisions about their food choices. Students basically respond with, “let us eat whatever we want.”

And here in the United States, school foodservice professionals would like to say to their northern colleagues, “Welcome to our world.”

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