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Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

By   /  May 10, 2013  /  21 Comments

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A recent UNICEF report placed New Zealand amongst the worst in developed countries for child wellbeing, ranking us 25th out of 34 developed countries.  We are  now behind Australia and Britain also for homicide rates, child health, and safety. 

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Free Milk - Auckland School Children 1939c free milk 1937-1967 ATL

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1. We’ve had the ‘chat’

We should all know the facts and stats by now;

In 2006/07 230,000, or 22 percent, of New Zealand children were still living in poverty. That is, in households with incomes below the 60 percent median income poverty line, after taking housing costs into account. This is more than the entire population of North Shore City (205,605) or the Manawatu-Wanganui region (222,423) and means one adult and one child were living on $430 a week before housing costs. (see:  Brief Statistics on Child Poverty in New Zealand 2004-2008)

By 2011/12, approximately 270,000, or 25%, of New Zealand children were living in poverty. (see: Solutions to Child Poverty)

A recent UNICEF report placed New Zealand amongst the worst in developed countries for child wellbeing, ranking us 25th out of 34 developed countries.  We are  now behind Australia and Britain also for homicide rates, child health, and safety.  (See: NZ ranked poorly on child welfare)

The same UNICEF report rated our country  third for clean air and fourth for children’s education outcomes in reading, maths, science and literacy. I’m sure clean air and high achievements in readin’, writin’, ‘n ‘rithmetic, will mean a lot to young chldren going to school with empty bellies… (Note sarcasm.)

In 2011, Dennis McKinlay, executive director at Unicef New Zealand, said,

New Zealand currently spends US$14,600 ($17,500) per child whilst, in comparison, Scandinavian countries spend US$50,000 per child under six. Other countries, like the Netherlands, spend less but have better outcomes. The stark reality is that poor outcomes for children are costing New Zealand $6 billion per year in areas such as health, welfare services, crime and justice.

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Study: Quarter of NZ kids in poverty

McKinlay was 100% on the mark when he said spending  on children should not be considered as a social cost but as an economic investment for the future of the country.

We have lost our moral compass when we demand tax cuts ahead of good policies that benefit our children.

The situation is so dire for many families that their households are often empty of food. After rent, power, and other fixed costs are  taken out of their meagre incomes, there is simply not much left for discretionary spending on things  like food, medication, clothing, etc.

As a blogger, “Burnt out Teacher” (Amanda Kennedy),  recently wrote on The Daily Blog,

You have $440 dollars after tax from your minimum wage job. $290 of it goes on your rent. You have $150 left. You pay $198 towards your power bill. Your car needs registering at a cost of $290.97. You owe Watercare $58.20 for last month. You need at least $15 of petrol to get to the doctor and back (the doctor will cost another $20 per child) because your children have asthma and your house is damp and cold. Both kids need new shoes for winter. Your boyfriend just beat you up. You are crying. How much debt are you in, and what are your kids going to eat today?

Acknowledgement:  The Daily Blog – Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

To those who care enough, I encourage you to read “Burnt out Teacher’s” full blogpost. It makes for sobering reading.

2. More ‘chat’?

On 7 May, Children’s Commissioner, Dr  Russell Wills, wrote an op-ed piece for the Dominion Post;

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Time for a chat on food in schools

Acknowledgement: The Dominion Post – Time for a chat on food in schools

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As Dr Wills said,

We need solutions that recognise the many complex causes of child hunger and poverty if we are to use the limited resources we have to make a real difference to children’s education and health outcomes.

Blaming parents is unhelpful and simplistic.

So far, so good.

However, in the next sentence from Dr Wills gave cause for concern,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Dr Wills may or may not realise that by  issuing the statement that “fully state-funded school cafeterias… tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence…” – he is perpetuating several unhealthy prejudices which the politically rightwing and conservative religious groups use to oppose food in schools for children.

Namely the extremist neo-conservative group, the so-called “Family First”, which also stated,

It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided…

[…]

It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided.

Acknowledgement: “Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

Hopefully it is a mere coincidence that Dr Wills’ comments seem to mirror the extremist views of “Family First”.

Where Dr Wills’ op-ed piece falls down is his proposals for how to provide food in schools. Dr Wills proposed that schools be responsible for growing their own food, and to operate in partnerships with businesses. He promoted philanthropy rather than state intervention.

I asked for feedback from the principals of  two low decile schools, and from Bryan Bruce, documentary-maker,  child poverty campaigner,  and producer of  the documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“, on Dr Wills’ proposals.

I first asked all three;  having read Dr Wills’ op-ed piece, “Time for a chat on food in schools”, what was their overall view on the points he had made?

Ruth O’Neill
Principal, Cannons Creek School

The points he makes are quite valid. I think he is right that we do need a different approach to the way cafeteria type models run overseas.  NZ general has its main meal in the evening – however in saying that these children often only eat what they are given at school and don’t eat much in the evening. To form a group to look into the best way to supply food is a good idea.

Mike Fackney
Principal, Taita Central School

 

Overall, his comments are generally valid and his suggested solutions have merit – but only if you regard the solutions as short-term solutions. The real solution to child poverty is for structural changes to NZ society and changed government policies, particularly ensuring a decent living income for all. With this approach, all families would be able to afford the food, afford the time to put into their kids (not working 2 jobs, or working early morning shifts, etc). Education for parents to help with budgeting, cooking, etc would also fill a gap. Without this approach, the proposed solutions rely on businesses, charities, and schools.

I then asked, what was their view on Dr Wills’ suggestions that,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Ruth O’Neill
 

I think he is right.  We need to look for a nutritious alternative that does not take school time – we are there to provide education not food.  The food needs to be provided by an independent source that is reliable.

Mike Fackney
 

I worked in UK schools for 4 years from 1999-2002, and saw the ‘school dinners’ (lunches) programme in operation. I don’t know about the cost to the authorities, but I don’t think it took up much school management time. The food quality was variable, but this is easily changed with the right will, as showed by Jamie Oliver’s crusade to make school dinners healthy.

Bryan Bruce
Documentary Producer

You can find good and bad examples of state funded cafeterias. So we know how bad it could be – let’s regulate the process from the start and model ourselves on the best ones – like the one I visited in Sweden . It is in a migrant area and the food was nutritious, tasty and much enjoyed by the kids .

My next point;  Dr Wills suggested that, “in some schools parents and whanau are encouraged to help garden, harvest veges, cook and serve the food. This teaches gardening and cooking skills, and helps build relationships between parents, whanau and teachers

Ruth O’Neill
 

This is a glorious hope – but it wont work in the long term.  Yes it is great to grow veges and encourage parents to be involved but this won’t supply the lunches everyday. The parents are not reliable enough to turn up everyday and make lunch – for it to work properly it needs to be a commercial venture.  Schools have to have a fully guaranteed liunch programme everyday that they don’t need to worry about.

Mike Fackney
 

Great if it works. Problems include vandalism to gardens, and difficulty to have parents regularly available. Yes it may help with relationships but not necessarily – relationship are better built over students’ education.

Bryan Bruce
 

While I think its a very good idea to teach kids how to grow food, but the idea of sustaining a school food programme on a grow your own basis would take up most of the playing fields and leave the kids with little time for anything else .

I then asked, is this practical practical in the short term? Long term? Would gardening, harvesting veges, cooking and serving the food be more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals?  Where would vegetables be cooked?

Ruth O’Neill
 

I have no idea where the food would be cooked on a large scale.  You have to employ people who have the skills to provide food on a large scale everyday.  We would have nowhere at present that you could cook or eat on a large scale.

Mike Fackney
 

I believe it would be [more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals].

With the UK school dinners, the schools have commercial kitchens. This school [Taita Central School] certain doesn’t have the necessary kitchen facilities.

Bryan Bruce
 

Food is a fundamental health need. Let’s put in the Swedish model – full time caterers and school restaurants. This will create jobs, ( for chefs, cooks, builders) which will stimulate our economy, reduce our health spend on crisis care for obese, diabetic and future adults with dodgy hearts.

Dr Wills further claimed that,  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme.”

Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?

Does reliance on “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food” take students away from an already packed curriculum and place more demands on teachers and other staff?

Ruth O’Neill
 

Teachers do not have time to do this on the scale that is needed to feed the whole school.  Being out in the sunshine gardening is lovely – but what about winter!!!  We won’t get to National Standards in Reading, Writing, and Maths if we are out gardening all day.  To have small class gardens that we have where children grow vegetables and take them home is great and teaches the skills of growing food but this won’t work on an everyday basis to feed everyone.

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills suggestion that  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme” – Mike Fackney responded,

This is fine, but not something which can really continue on an on-going basis, particularly with all the other expectations the government has on schools.

And when asked “Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?” – he replied,

It’s never really a desirable proposal for schools to rely on private support.

Bryan Bruce
 

Bryan Bruce was even less enthusiastic at Dr Wills’ proposals,

We seem to be going back to the 19th Century idea of relying on charities and volunteers to look after the poor. Haven’t we learned anything ?

In my view it’s like this – teachers are not hired to be caterers. They are doing it out of compassion. Are we now asking them to be full time gardeners as well.

Dr Wills also said ; “In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

He also states,

However, I think there could be two potential roles for government funding. First, there is a place for a co-ordination role to bring together schools and businesses, and manage the programme and the workload for principals and business owners.

Second, there is an argument to match government funding to philanthropy on a sliding scale.

For example, $3 for every $1 raised in a decile 1 school, decreasing for better-off schools.

Matched funding like this encourages communities to build and own their own solutions, and incentivises businesses to give to their communities rather than replacing philanthropy with taxpayer funding, which has the opposite effect. Funding could be made available only to programmes that adhere to agreed standards, raising the quality of programmes. None of this requires legislative change.”

Dr Wills appears to be promoting a State/Philantropy Partnership policy. Is this a practical means by which to promote food in schools, or is it an abrogation of duties which should be the State’s responsibility on this issue?

What happens where businesses or private philantropy is not forthcoming – especially in poorer areas with high unemployment and few businesses? And would private businesses expect a quid pro quo, ie, advertising on school grounds?

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Upper Hutt School

Photograph:  Upper Hutt School, Upper Hutt

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Ruth O’Neill
 

This again puts pressure on schools to spend time on activities other than teaching children!!  There is no money in the community. $10 is alot of money in Cannons Creek.  We do not charge more that $2 or $3 for a school trip and subsidise the rest with school money. We have no school fees and provide such things as sunhats, beanies, shoes, socks, etc ourselves.  I think there needs to be further investigation into how poor is poor.  It may only be small groups of decile 1 schools that need this support.

 

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills’s comment that  “in many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

Mike  replies,

A far easier way is that it’s organised through the taxation system (i.e. a fairer taxation system) and provided by government – as schools are.

As for the rest of Dr Wills’ comments above, Mike says,

All of this sounds like an organisation nightmare.

Bryan Bruce
 

If we want to rebuild a fair an equitable society where every child gets a fair go you can’t have kids in poor schools gardening to grow their dinner while kids in rich schools get their lunch provided and spend their school time doing maths and reading. If the public school system does not treat every child equally (and it already isn’t) then watch the gap between the rich and the poor get bigger and bigger.

Dr Wills also suggests that ,  “ … we need a small project to bring together schools, NGOs, officials and experts to reach a consensus on what food in schools done well looks like. From there we could develop guidelines and standards for food in schools programmes.
Is this a viable, necessary step? Or a case of “talking heads around a table” whilst the problem of hungry children goes unaddressed?

Ruth O’Neill
 

This sounds like a great idea – count me in. If this is going to be addressed properly and a long term healthy solution found then it needs a focused approach. With the right people and funding it could move quite quickly.

When I asked, can we afford Dr Wills’  suggestion “Maybe it’s time for a cup of tea on food in schools?“, Bryan Bruce was less than impressed,

Bryan Bruce

 

Forget the cup of tea and the charity and poor kids being constant gardeners – let’s get on and feed our kids properly so the teachers are freed to do their job and our kids can learn the 21 st Century skills they will need to earn money, pay their taxes and grow our economy.

Ruth also offered her thoughts on  matters arising  from Dr Wills’ ideas.
Questons such as; who cares and tends to the gardens during school holidays? Are school staff expected to tend to garden plots during holidays?

Ruth O’Neill

I can tell you that the class gardens all go to seed over the xmas break and then it takes all of term 1 when the soil is rock hard to get them up and running again.  Then in the winter they are like a bog!!! On any given weekend people will come into the grounds and trash them, throw alcohol and broken glass bottles in them. Urinate in them – would you want your child doing the gardening?? Or people steal the veges.

What about schools that have little or no spare land for gardens?

 Exactly??? Or who have high vandalism.

I then asked how much food can be grown to sustain anywhere from thirty to a few hundred school children in any given school? The respone from Ruth was fairly predictable,

You could not grow enough food to maintain the whole programme. It is also a question of having the right veges on the right day to make the soup or the sandwiches. You need lettuces and tomatoes everyday!!

And of course the also-obvious question which I put to Ruth –  what do children eat whilst crops are growing?

Exactly – totally impractical unless it is on a massive commercial scale for a big group of schools and the funding to buy in produce when needed to supplement supplies.

 

And is a “chat”  really necessary – or is it time to Just Do It; to get on with feeding our children and leave the “conversation” to some other time? (It’s easy for middle class professionals to want to engage in public debate. Especially on a full belly.)

Ruth O’Neill

It needs addressing and in a timely manner – the chat would need to lead to actions and funding.

Mike Fackney

All of the above are very valid concerns.

This blogger concurs with Bryan, Ruth, and Mike; Dr Wills has suggested some positive ideas – but the prospect of turning our schools into vast agricultural plots to feed hungry child is simply not practical.

Children go to school, first and foremost, to learn.

Those children from low-income or impoverished families should not be made to become mini-farmers.

Teachers go to school, first and foremost, to teach.

They do not expect to add Farm Manager to their C.V.

Child poverty is here, in our country. Whilst right wing conservatives  ‘tut-tut’ and wag their judgemental fingers at the problem (I refuse point-blank to call it an “issue”), children through no fault of their own are going hungry and their  learning experience is diminished.

As a nation, it is almost as if we have embarked on a deliberate course of increasing poverty and ensuring the advent of the next generation of impoverished New Zealanders.

If that is our aim, then we are exceeding all expectations. The UNICEF report referred to above proves that poverty is a growth industry in this country.

The time for “chat” is over.

3. “Feed The Kids” Bill in Parliament – Chat with MPs

The Mana Party in Parliament has a Bill before the House. The bill is designed to fund nutritional breakfasts and lunches to all their students in decile 1 and 2 schools.

For more info, see: Feed the Kids Bill

As their website points out,

  • Feeding the kids should be our first priority as a nation.
  • The Bill aims to set up government funded breakfast and lunch programmes in all decile 1-2 schools.
  • It’s a simple, easy and immediate way to address growing levels of child poverty in Aotearoa and has been a key recommendation of leading organisations such as the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.
  • The Bill is expected to come before Parliament for its first reading on Wednesday 5 June. So far Labour, Greens, Maori Party, NZ First, and Independent MP Brendan Horan have agreed to support it.
  • We need one more vote to get it passed and to a select committee for further consideration.

One more vote.

That’s all it will take.

Accordingly, Documentary-maker and child poverty campaigner, Bryan Bruce, is encouraging people to write to all MPs, asking that they vote for the Bill. As Bryan wrote on his Facebook Page,

You’re 7 years old. It’s winter. You haven’t had breakfast and you’re hungry. What do you want to hear?

“Why doesn’t your Mum feed you in the morning? I hope you’re not going to grow up to be a bad parent like her?”

OR

“Hey! Here’s some Milo. There’s toast over there and weetbix , milk and fruit on the table. Help yourself.”

We can’t change tomorrow if we don’t do the right thing today.

Please contact your local MP and ask them to support the Feed The Kids Bill. You will find their email addresses here:

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Bryan even suggests a pre-formatted letter to send,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

My name is…………. I live in your electorate . I urge you to commit to cross- party talks on how to end Child Poverty in New Zealand.

Please begin by agreeing to Cross-Party discussions on how we can implement a policy of supplying healthy meals in schools and show good faith by supporting the Feed The Kids Bill as a first step.

Yours faithfully………

Even something as simple as,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. Nothing is as important as ensuring that all children have a decent chance in life.

Yours faithfully………

Or,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. This is so important to me that I’ll be basing my vote at the next election for those candidates/parties who support this Bill.

Yours faithfully………

The MPs email addresses,

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Adams, Amy National Party, Selwyn
Ardern, Jacinda Labour Party, List
Ardern, Shane National Party, Taranaki-King Country
Auchinvole, Chris National Party, List
Bakshi, Kanwaljit Singh National Party, List
Banks, John ACT New Zealand, Epsom
Barry, Maggie National Party, North Shore
Beaumont, Carol Labour Party, List
Bennett, David National Party, Hamilton East
Bennett, Paula National Party, Waitakere
Blue, Jackie National Party, List
Borrows, Chester National Party, Whanganui
Bridges, Simon National Party, Tauranga
Browning, Steffan Green Party, List
Brownlee, Gerry National Party, Ilam
Calder, Cam National Party, List
Carter, David National Party, List
Clark, David Labour Party, Dunedin North
Clendon, David Green Party, List
Coleman, Jonathan National Party, Northcote
Collins, Judith National Party, Papakura
Cosgrove, Clayton Labour Party, List
Cunliffe, David Labour Party, New Lynn
Curran, Clare Labour Party, Dunedin South
Dalziel, Lianne Labour Party, Christchurch East
Dean, Jacqui National Party, Waitaki
Delahunty, Catherine Green Party, List
Dunne, Peter United Future, Ohariu
Dyson, Ruth Labour Party, Port Hills
English, Bill National Party, Clutha-Southland
Faafoi, Kris Labour Party, Mana
Fenton, Darien Labour Party, List
Finlayson, Christopher National Party, List
Flavell, Te Ururoa Maori Party, Waiariki
Foss, Craig National Party, Tukituki
Genter, Julie Anne Green Party, List
Gilmore, Aaron National Party, List
Goff, Phil Labour Party, Mt Roskill
Goldsmith, Paul National Party, List
Goodhew, Jo National Party, Rangitata
Graham, Kennedy Green Party, List
Groser, Tim National Party, List
Guy, Nathan National Party, Otaki
Hague, Kevin Green Party, List
Harawira, Hone Mana, Te Tai Tokerau
Hayes, John National Party, Wairarapa
Heatley, Phil National Party, Whangarei
Henare, Tau National Party, List
Hipkins, Chris Labour Party, Rimutaka
Horan, Brendan Independent, List
Hughes, Gareth Green Party, List
Huo, Raymond Labour Party, List
Hutchison, Paul National Party, Hunua
Jones, Shane Labour Party, List
Joyce, Steven National Party, List
Kaye, Nikki National Party, Auckland Central
Key, John National Party, Helensville
King, Annette Labour Party, Rongotai
King, Colin National Party, Kaikoura
Lee, Melissa National Party, List
Lees-Galloway, Iain Labour Party, Palmerston North
Little, Andrew Labour Party, List
Logie, Jan Green Party, List
Lole-Taylor, Asenati NZ First, List
Lotu-Iiga, Peseta Sam National Party, Maungakiekie
Macindoe, Tim National Party, Hamilton West
Mackey, Moana Labour Party, List
Mahuta, Nanaia Labour Party, Hauraki-Waikato
Mallard, Trevor Labour Party, Hutt South
Martin, Tracey NZ First, List
Mathers, Mojo Green Party, List
McClay, Todd National Party, Rotorua
McCully, Murray National Party, East Coast Bays
McKelvie, Ian National Party, Rangitikei
Mitchell, Mark National Party, Rodney
Moroney, Sue Labour Party, List
Ngaro, Alfred National Party, List
Norman, Russel Green Party, List
O’Connor, Damien Labour Party, West Coast-Tasman
O’Connor, Simon National Party, Tamaki
O’Rourke, Denis NZ First, List
Parata, Hekia National Party, List
Parker, David Labour Party, List
Peters, Winston NZ First, List
Prasad, Rajen Labour Party, List
Prosser, Richard NZ First, List
Robertson, Grant Labour Party, Wellington Central
Robertson, Ross Labour Party, Manukau East
Roche, Denise Green Party, List
Ross, Jami-Lee National Party, Botany
Roy, Eric National Party, Invercargill
Ryall, Tony National Party, Bay of Plenty
Sabin, Mike National Party, Northland
Sage, Eugenie Green Party, List
Shanks, Katrina National Party, List
Sharples, Pita Maori Party, Tamaki Makaurau
Shearer, David Labour Party, Mt Albert
Simpson, Scott National Party, Coromandel
Sio, Su’a William Labour Party, Mangere
Smith, Nick National Party, Nelson
Stewart, Barbara NZ First, List
Street, Maryan Labour Party, List
Tirikatene, Rino Labour Party, Te Tai Tonga
Tisch, Lindsay National Party, Waikato
Tolley, Anne National Party, East Coast
Tremain, Chris National Party, Napier
Turei, Metiria Green Party, List
Turia, Tariana Maori Party, Te Tai Hauauru
Twyford, Phil Labour Party, Te Atatu
Upston, Louise National Party, Taupo
Wagner, Nicky National Party, Christchurch Central
Walker, Holly Green Party, List
Wall, Louisa Labour Party, Manurewa
Wilkinson, Kate National Party, Waimakariri
Williams, Andrew NZ First, List
Williamson, Maurice National Party, Pakuranga
Woodhouse, Michael National Party, List
Woods, Megan Labour Party, Wigram
Yang, Jian National Party, List
Young, Jonathan National Party, New Plymouth

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I leave the final word to Bryan, from his Facebook page,

OK, let’s get some things straight about providing free healthy meals in schools.

1. First of all let’s decide on the principle before arguing about the detail.

Let’s admit there is a significant problem of children turning up to school hungry and that a lot of kids are eating low cost foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat , causing obesity , diabetes and long term health problems.

And at least get the Feed The Kids Bill to Parliamentary Select Committee. You can argue all you want about how it should be funded or what’s going to be on the menu there.

If you don’t think we have a community responsibility to feed children and/or educate their palates to healthy eating habits – then read no further it will only make you angry.

2. It doesn’t fill a hungry kids tummy to point at their parents and shout “Your problem is you have bad parents”. This page takes the view that kids don’t get to choose their parents and we have a community responsibility to ALL our kids to make sure they grow up healthy. And if that means feeding them for free- then that’s what we do.

3. No one is going to force feed any child food they don’t want to eat or is culturally inappropriate. If you watch the video below which I filmed in Sweden for the documentary you will see children from multi -cultural backgrounds CHOOSING their food. And Yes children with allergies are catered for and Yes children can still bring their own lunch prepared by the parents .

4.Free healthy school meals can be paid for without raising taxes. We just choose to re-distribute the existing pool of tax payer money and give up on some other things. Here are some suggestions, I’m sure you can think of other ways we could spend smarter.

(a) We could fund school meals out of the Health vote rather than the Education vote. In a document released under the Official Information Act I revealed that children under 14 receive 10% of the money set aside for health care. But children under 14 represent 20% of our population. So we could fund some of it – if not all of it – by giving kids their fair share.

(b )It is a well accepted health statistic that for every $1 we spend on preventing disease we save $4 in expensive hospital cure. So within a few years the scheme will fund itself out of what we save. If we DON’T do it, taxpayers will be spending much more than they are now on the Health budget in the future.

(c) We could make children a spending priority. National plans to spend a billion a year on Roads of National Significance over the next 10 years. What about Children? – aren’t they of National Significance? I’d much rather feed our kids than be able to by – pass small towns while driving to Auckland .

(d) We could pay the pension to people when they actually stop working and not just because they reach 65.

(e) We could spend more energy making sure people paid their taxes . Last year the IRD detected about a Billion dollars worth of tax evasion mostly by businesses. It’s estimated that the real tax evasion in NZ is between 4 and 5 Billion.


If you pay PAYE you can’t cheat your taxes. So we could easily pay for free school meals if more adults played fair.

Let’s impose greater penalties for tax evasion, and let’s stop thinking of tax as a bad thing. Tax is a good thing – it’s giving to ourselves. That’s how we can have schools and hospitals and yes even Roads Of National significance. Tax is the price of civilisation. Get over it.

Now whether you agree with some of the above, all of the above or none of the above , let’s at least agree that The Feed The Kids Bill should at least go to Select Committee after its First Reading so the issue can be properly debated.

Please contact your local MP today and urge them to support the Feed The Kids Bill.

You can find their contact details here, just click on their name :

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Thank you,
Bryan

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F26mKvwDf5E&w=560&h=315]

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Acknowledgement

My sincerest appreciation and thanks go  to Bryan Bruce, Mike Fackney, and  Ruth O’Neill for taking time out of their busy schedules to respond to my questions.

Other Blog Posts

The Daily Blog: Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

References

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

Scoop: Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels   (30 May 2012)

NZ Herald: Poverty not only reason for suicide spike, says Key (30 Oct 2012)

Fairfax Media: Time for a chat on food in schools (7 May 2013)

Additional

Mana Party: Feed the Kids #fact sheet

Feed The Kids

Facebook: Community Campaign for Food in Schools – NZ

Ten Myths About Welfare

The Children’s Social Health Monitor: Child Poverty and Living Standards

Other blogposts

The Pundit: Children’s Commissioner fronts for Nats on food in schools: Corporate agenda rules

And from the nasty side of Conservative Rightwing politics

“Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

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  1. Pete George says:

    I see two significant problems.

    There’s no dispute that some families really struggle, they really struggle caring for their kids, feeding them, clothing them, providing them with a decent place to live, giving them decent medical care.

    Social welfare is not enough for many people. Wages and tax credits and other means of assitance are not enough for many people. And this obviously affects a lot of kids.

    We also have a problem with a huge social welfare cost.

    All governments have to make decisions about how much money is provided and how much is allocated to “people in need”.

    There are a wide variety of circumstances and needs.

    The country cannot afford to just keep giving more money across the board.

    Choosing one small part of this problem like hungry kids in schools and giving a sub group of kids going to school more will help some kids, but it will also give to kids who don’t need it.

    Mana say their Feed the Kids bill will cost about $100m a year. That’s not much out of the whole budget.

    BUT

    It gives more than is necessary, not all the targeted kids need it.

    And you could pick many small groups to target. Governments have been doing this for decades. It helps some and gives more to others who don’t need it.

    And all these small innefficiencies in targeting add up to huge inefficiencies.

    And some like the Feed The Kids bill doesn’t even address the causes of the problem.

    I don’t think trying to guilt people into supporting a small well meaning but inefficent programme to feed some kids helps.

    There are much bigger problems that deserve far better attention.

    • Anne says:

      Pete – Rome wasn’t built in a day and the intention of this bill is to make a start to solve one of the many problems of poverty as trying to cover all the issues at once is a ludicrous proposition (and would obviously spread resources too thin).

      Why do the naysayers find it necessary to reeducate/rehabilitate the parents BEFORE just plain getting on with the act of feeding the kids – because some people despise the thought of giving to others without receiving something in return for their efforts – this kind of thinking has no place in the minds of true humanitarians

    • “The country cannot afford to just keep giving more money across the board.”

      You know, Pete, I keep hearing and reading that.

      And yet, “the country” (aka government) keeps giving more money to rugby tournaments, yachting regattas, subsidies to big movie corporations, aluminium smelters, etc, etc, etc. Heck, even China South Airlines got a bag of taxpayers’ dosh. ($4 million)

      But there’s not enough to INVEST in our children so they can at least focus on their school lessons; learn to read and write; count; and hopefully keep out of prison when they get older?

      Why is that? Why is there money to subsidise irrigation in the South Island or grants to businesses – but not put a bloody bowl of fucking weetbix and milk in front of a starving kid???

      “And some like the Feed The Kids bill doesn’t even address the causes of the problem.”

      You’re right. It doesn’t.

      It’s not designed to.

      It’s designed to FEED THE KIDS, so that just maybe, they’ll get a head start in life. It’s pretty damned hard to focus on school lessons when you have an empty belly and a headache from inadequate nutrition.

      So tell me – why are punishing the children for our country’s inability to address poverty problems (I refuse to call it an “issue”)?

      Something is seriously wrong when we’re debating whether to feed hungry children because of ‘XYZ’…

      “I don’t think trying to guilt people into supporting a small well meaning but inefficent programme to feed some kids helps.”

      Guilt? Why, Pete. Are you feeling a tinge of something…?

      And you know what – this “well meaning” programme won’t be “inefficient” if we put food into kids’ stomachs. How can that be “inefficient”?

      Read BurntOutTeacher’s blogpost;

      https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/05/07/hungry-kids-annoy-frazzled-lobby-group-director/

      I dare you to.

      And then explain why feeding this nation’s hungry children is “inefficient”.

      • Pete George says:

        “Why is there money to subsidise irrigation in the South Island or grants to businesses – but not put a bloody bowl of fucking weetbix and milk in front of a starving kid???”

        Frank, the Government (actually the taxpayers) already give a considerable amount of money to families and directly and indirectly to children.

        Ah, and did you realise that irrigation allows cows to produce milk for the weetbix? And did you realise that milk was already being given to schools?

        Emotive guilting does not make a good argument.

        • The Daily Blog Martyn Bradbury says:

          But they aren’t doing enough in terms of investment into those communities Pete and that’s the problem.

    • Ovicula says:

      I see two significant problems as well – Peter Dunne and Pete George. Stop trying to follow ACT policies using social democratic rhetoric. Be honest, starting with yourselves.

    • Chris Miller says:

      It’s far easier and often cheaper to target all low income areas than to figure out how to target ONLY the EXACT families that need it.

  2. […] Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”? […]

    • Anne says:

      Excellent post Frank – I believe healthy nutrition is one of the cornerstones of life and whilst I make sure my own children eat well I do not judge the circumstances in which other’s children go hungry and fully support any initiative to provide healthy food for children.

      I just want to address a couple of the concerns bought up by your interviewees:

      Sticking point 1 – Manpower for preparation
      Paula Bennett makes beneficiaries with children older than 5 seek part time work or lose part of their benefit – these people could fulfill this benefit requirement at the local school working on the Feed the Kids program and also receive food handling certificate training and a reference for their efforts

      Ruth re: nowhere to eat – people sit on the grass and eat at festivals like Devonport, Pasifika and Grey Lynn or in on the floor at school/community halls for fairs or galas

      Sticking Point 2 – School Gardens
      Manpower – see above
      Concerns on gardening in winter – their are veges that grow in winter that do not need intense tending.
      Producing enough to feed the school – the garden produce could be used for 1 day every week and still be a valuable asset to the program and educating the children
      Land available – 2 or more schools could share a space like they do with pools and roster the upkeep

      Generally I think all schools should either have a vege garden or access to one and I’m amazed at the fact that there aren’t any or more fruit trees on school grounds – I would think that what with the Ministry of Educations new Vocational Pathways focus that school gardens and teaching aspects of horticulture would be a priority.

      Ideally and with great hope I would like to see this taken further where there would be interschool produce show with prizes for the biggest carrot or tastiest tomato – to see the pride on the little faces would be all the thanks the government should ever need.

  3. BobW says:

    No more chatting… just get on and do it. This country is hamstrung every time something needs to be done. Consultation (chatting) breeds a portion of society that will sit around discussing rather than doing, and costing money that could be better spent on action.

  4. Jane Armide says:

    Perhaps it might have been useful to test out the assertions of those principals about how it couldn’t work by looking for evidence of principals and schools who are doing something similar already?

    Check out http://www.rhodestreet.school.nz and their activities to grow produce and feed children in the school – plus there are other NZ schools operating on similar models that meet the needs of children and engage their caregivers and communities.

    The comments of the principals you have featured here do not acknowledge the valuable opportunities for integrated learning this type of programme can produce, building a whole range of educational, social and entrepreneurial skills in students (and caregivers) as well as feeding those who need it. Those principals you quoted also don’t have a great deal of faith in the communities they are there to serve – reminds me of a principal I heard on the radio during the National Standards debate who felt that he shouldn’t be made accountable for student achievement given the “poor quality” of the children attending his school!

    • ” Those principals you quoted also don’t have a great deal of faith in the communities they are there to serve – reminds me of a principal I heard on the radio during the National Standards debate who felt that he shouldn’t be made accountable for student achievement given the “poor quality” of the children attending his school!”

      Quite the contrary, Jane. Those pricipals are doing good work in providing food for children from low-income families. Your criticism of them is unjustified. They know their own communities better than you or I – which is why I specifically asked those at the chalk-face for their opinions.

      I’ve been to Taita school (as part of a community initiative to provide warm hats and scarves for the kids – check out Knitting for Cool Kids on Facebook).

      Taita School also provides donated food (mostly fruit) for the children.

      I think the principlals have voiced a real concern; that the children of low income families should not be made to be youth-farmers tending to plots, whilst kids in more affluent families get on with their education.

      Turning children into ‘peasant farmers’ just because of their socio-economic status seems to be another means by which to punish them for being born into the wrong families?

      And really, do we want teachers tending to vege plots and growing produce and whatnot instead of teaching?

      I’m all for teaching children about gardening, recycling, sound ecological practice; respect for the environment; etc, but I doubt a school can produce enough food to sustain itself throughout the year. And should they?

    • Theodore says:

      As Bob says – get on with it!!

      Jane, your ideas mean kids going hungry while you wait for a bunch of carrots to grow. I don’t know about you but I don’t want my kids being taught to be peasant farmers to eat, while other kids from rich families get a decent education.

      That’s turning 270,000 kids into second class citizens.

      You don’t see the Swedes or Finns doing it so why should we?

  5. Jane Armide says:

    “The parents are not reliable enough to turn up everyday and make lunch”

    Really? That is an appalling generalisation and says something very sad about that principal’s attitude to and relationship with her community.

    How about standing back from the alarmist rhetoric and the naysayers and having a tall to the schools who are making this work (as I imagine Dr Wills has probably done). I’m familiar with Rhode St school’s work in this area (similar size school to Cannons Creek, comparable in terms of community issues – drugs, gangs, unemployment, slightly higher decile).

    There are other schools in NZ you could look to who are doing similar things – using the garden and food as a basis for learning and parental/community engagement. And perhaps you could ask if the kids, teachers or staff in those schools consider themselves to be “peasant farmers”.

    By the way I don’t think anyone has suggested that these kind of initiatives be solely be confined to low decile schools. I’d be more worried about any funding getting sucked off by Decile 10 schools because the parents would like to see little Jack and Ruby cultivating figs and florence fennel in an organic sustainable garden run according to Steiner principles!

    Il faut cultiver notre jardin. Voltaire.

    • Paula F says:

      I wasn’t familiar with Rhodes Street School but I see that they’re an Enviro School, and like the school that my children attend it’s a green gold enviro school(not decile 10 and they’re not Jack or Ruby, but I can’t see anything wrong with figs, fennel or organic principles- why should low and middle income have to live with poisonous sprays and Monsanto seeds?)which means they really are embracing those ideas and running with it. Cannons Creek is an Enviro School too, and I’d be interested to see how it’s being implemented. It’s definitely not about raising peasant farmers Frank, but it is about community and involvement.

      http://www.enviroschools.org.nz/in_your_region/map

    • John Elliott says:

      Il faut cultiver son jardin, not notre. (Voltaire)

      Sorry, but this idea of largely getting students to grow their own breakfasts is a laughable cop-out, especially when teachers are forced to concentrate on meeting the nebulous National standards. I think that your opponents are likely to be just as involved with schools as you are. ‘Peasant farmers’ is what these students are reduced to being if students in other better-off areas can spend that time on more academic studies, and leave the poorer behind. It is not an insult, but a sad commentary.

      • Paula F says:

        “We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” Chris Hedges

        Education is more than reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic, more than national standards or whatever the government of the moment decides is the most important thing. We have generations that don’t know how to grow food, that buy from supermarkets at exorbitant prices what they could grow for themselves for a pittance. They don’t know how. That’s tragic. I can’t understand why you think teaching someone how to feed themselves is a bad thing?

  6. Robert Atack says:

    As far as feeding children, I’m on the left of this debate.
    BUT
    I have a problem with all the ‘unconceaved’ ?
    The ‘easier’ it is to have children the more we will have, I am not wishing hardship on anyone, I’m just trying to point out that any child born today IS going to have a short life, compared to most of us anyway.
    What the hell, it is going to take maybe another 10 years for people to wake up to the insanity of having a child, so what is another billion under ten year olds?
    There is as much chance of convincing the breeders not to have another child as there is in convincing the road builders of the futility of building roads – post peak oil?

    http://wildancestors.blogspot.co.nz/2013/05/near-term-extinction.html?spref=fb

  7. […] Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”? […]

  8. peterlepaysan says:

    Yeah, OK, let us feed the kids in schools.

    Leaving aside minor issues like parental responsibility who is going to decide what is eaten?

    As an adult I can decide what and how much of what I eat.

    A child does not have that ability.

    The diet/health/education discussion and (mainly poor) “research” leaves it wide open for for corporates and egoistic “experts” to force feed our children with an extremely unhealthy diet.

    I have spent years both teaching children, and driving school buses.

    I have a better idea of what is or is not eaten by our kids than any politician. Yes I can unravel statistics as well (and, no, my name is not Aaron Gilmore.)

    Yeah kids going to school with no breakfast is an important issue. A bigger issue is that most of the kids go to school in the morning with their mourhs and stomachs fed with useless fodder most of which is metabolised into glucose.

    Then our “experts ” bewail about “obesity and diabetes epidemics”.
    They should look in the mirror and question their own advice.

    Our society is based on speed and convenience when it comes to eating (and price).

    Feeding our kids is no different.

    Mana needs to be very careful about what it wishess for.

    Feeding hungry kids is fine.

    What is going into their mouths is the most important factor.

  9. […] Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”? […]

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