Tag Archives: World Food Program

Food education is not a luxury

What’s for Lunch? has attracted some great responses on the international front, especially in Brazil. Yesterday, the World Food Programme’s Centre for Excellence Against Hunger—a collaboration between the government of Brazil and the WFP that started with a focus on best practises for school feeding—published a Q& A with me about the book and what I discovered in my research about how different nations around the world approach school meals.
Below, you’ll find one of their (rather tough) questions. To read the whole interview, click here.
Is the emphasis that is sometimes placed on nutritional education a luxury that only richer countries can afford? Or is it wrong to make the distinction between feeding and nurturing?
There are times of emergency when almost any food is good enough for a short period—during the heat of war, natural disaster, etc. But I think we all need to strive for something better than emergency rations devoid of taste, culture and pleasure. Children in developing nations should have all the opportunities that children elsewhere enjoy. Nutrition education is part of this. To alleviate anemia, for instance, we need to ensure children are offered food that is rich in iron, but we also need to talk to them about why it’s important, so they can pass it on to their parents and their own children as they grow older. But I also think food literacy needs to be more than just education about nutrients, micronutrients and food groups, educators should be talking with children about where food comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown, the politics of agriculture and the world of processed food. We have a deeply interconnected international food system, so these issues touch not just those in wealthy nations but people everywhere. In fact, you could easily argue that it’s the poor who benefit least in our current food system. Shouldn’t they have a chance to learn about how the system works and why? It seems to me that talking to children and helping them make the links between their food, their lives and those of people in the world around them is one of the very best way to truly transform the system so that it’s sustainable and just. I was really inspired by some groups in Peru that are working in collaboration with indigenous people to reclaim their food culture, language and traditions in part by connecting schoolchildren with elders in their communities who remember the old agricultural techniques and knowledge of plants. This is the kind of food education I’m talking about and it’s no luxury, it’s a necessity.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Molly’s story

Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Researching What’s for Lunch? I talked to and read about lots of amazing people all over the world doing great things to improve kids’ access to healthy food. It was very inspiring.

But, for me, one of the most moving parts of my research was learning about Dadaab refugee camp on the border of Kenya and Somalia. There, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in their homeland are crammed into a space intended for 90,000. Many kids don’t even go to school because the facilities are crowded and inadequate and they have to share text books and desks. But the children who do attend receive a hot meal provided by the World Food Programme. It’s usually very simple: corn-soy porridge fortified with vitamins and minerals. It’s not served in pretty dishes or colourful trays, but for many of the kids it’s the best—and often only—meal they’ll have all day.

There, school lunch is more than a perk for busy parents or even a way to embed food literacy into the already robust curriculum, it’s life-sustaining.

For World Food Day—mark your calendars for October 16—the World Food Programme (WFP) has a new campaign to raise awareness and funds for its excellent work all over the world, including school meal programs that ensure nearly 26 million kids in 60 countries receive a healthy meal each day. All you have to do is watch the video (above), take a quick quiz and one meal will be provided to a child through the WFP. Continue reading

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>


Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Seven billion and counting

There’s been a ton of coverage in the news this week about the birth of the 7 billionth baby on Earth. The Atlantic put out a beautiful and haunting photo series on the subject, and every media outlet has covered it.

There’s a weird kind of tone to much of it. Some people want to be hopeful—yay! it’s someone’s birthday—but we all know this is not exactly cause to celebrate.

To me, seeing all the newscasts together, I can’t help but think of them as the opening credits to some sort of sci-fi thriller, in which the audience learns that this particular event was the final straw before everything went to hell in a handbasket. The truth is, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll sustain life on this planet at the rate we’re going. Not only in terms of population, of course, but all the ancillary bits that go along with living with 7 billion (and counting) other souls on a planet with finite resources—food shortages, water shortages, climate change, too much waste, pollution and all the social problems that result.

Scientific American published a fascinating story exploring the maximum human population that the earth can sustain (10.1 billion according to UN demographers).

But it was seeing the World Food Program’s “News Flash” on the subject that really hit home for me.

Twenty-five per cent of the one billion hungry are children.

It’s sobering stuff with no easy solutions, though it seems clear that the model of endless growth and mass consumption can’t continue indefinitely. To read more about what this week’s birthday celebrations mean on the food front, check out the WFP’s list of must-read articles on the subject here.

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Talking about hunger with kids

Last week I wrote about the famine in East Africa. But how do we make sense of such catastrophic events with children? How do you explain to your kids—in a classroom or at home—that we have enough food to feed everyone in the world but five million children die of hunger in the developing world every year?

It’s not easy. When my kids’ school hosted a hunger banquet two years ago, we all (parents and teachers) struggled not to feel hopeless or powerless, to provide context and also to go farther in our analysis of solutions than simply “you need to donate to international food agencies” or “donate to the local food bank.” While that might make sense in the short term, much larger and more systemic changes are necessary if we are really going to challenge hunger in our lifetimes.

For some ideas about how to talk about these issues, check out the WFP’s recently revamped website with its excellent resources and country profiles aimed at students and teachers. It’s also got resource links, examples of schools taking action on hunger issues, and classroom activities such as a math exercise in which kids in Grades 4-6 learn about what it’s like to live on less than $2 per day.

I’m also continually adding to my Resource page aimed at teachers and parents interested in the food system, including issues of  hunger, malnutrition and food justice. Check it out here.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School lunch

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Donate to WFP at http://www.wfp.org

I’ve written before about the school feeding program in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where some 300,000 people are crammed into an area intended for far, far less. Malnutrition, overcrowding, and problems with sanitation and access to potable water are common. The World Food Program provides a fortified corn-soy (CSB) porridge at the schools so kids can focus on their work (also as encouragement to attend, though only about 50% of kids in the camp go because the facilities are so inadequate).

Well, since I last wrote about it, things have been getting worse. Much worse. The most severe drought in 60 years is causing a food crisis and malnutrition. According to the WFP:

“The number of people in the Horn of Africa requiring food assistance… is expected to rise as high as 10 million in coming weeks…”

That’s an increase of about 4 million people needing help during this especially severe drought, made even more difficult because of conflict and high food prices. More and more hungry people are flooding into these camps (journalist Ben Brown calls it a “vision of hell”), and the WFP—which relies on individual donations—is looking at a serious funding shortfall.

I don’t think emergency food handouts (like fortified porridge or biscuits, or here at home food banks) are the answer to hunger in the long term, but right now thousands of children and their families could go hungry and die unless the world responds. Read more about what some are calling a famine in East Africa here and here. And please consider donating to the WFP.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding

Food emergency in Japan

News out of Japan yesterday about the radioactive contamination of food in a wide area around the nuclear plant is terrifying. But not so much because of worries about international exports, as the article focuses on—that’s straightforward enough to shut down. Instead, it’s the people in Japan who are most likely to suffer its lingering effects.

And this when it’s already hard to get enough food to people in the affected areas.  Second Harvest Japan, the first food bank in that country, has dedicated all of its resources to responding to the earthquake, funnelling food and funds to those in need. You can follow their actions on Twitter and their blog and/or make a donation to their relief efforts here.


(I was surprised to learn that even before the earthquake and tsunami 650,000 Japanese lacked food security and more than 50% of single parent families live in poverty. These people were in crisis long before the crisis.)

The World Food Program is also on the emergency food case, helping to provide logistical support and getting supplies to the affected areas “where some 350,000 people are estimated to be staying in 2,100 shelters,” according to WFP.

Unfortunately, none of this is going to go away soon. The scale of disaster is vast. But Japan has such a rich, interesting and well-established food culture (including one of the most intelligent school lunch programs I’ve seen in the world—see my posts about it here), its food system could very well prove as resilient as the people themselves.

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What’s for lunch in Egypt?

Like so many people all over the world, I’ve been riveted by the powerful ongoing story out of Egypt about how popular uprising and the organizing strength of young people (the median age of Egyptians is a stunning 24 years old—that’s 17 years younger than Canada) has successfully brought down Mubarak’s autocratic regime.

But in all the talk about why and how and what it all means, I have seen little about the role of the food crisis—despite initial suggestions that soaring staple prices were at the heart of the unrest. And less, still, about how children are faring through all of this.

But according to the World Food Program, which provides food for education programs in the country, things have not been easy for kids. With nearly 20% of the country living on less than $1/day long, there are many, many vulnerable families. Last week WFP reported that over the previous few days, it had offered emergency food to 3,000 schoolchildren and their families, providing 15-day rations—mostly fortified date bars—plus a one month advance on take home rations in the form of 10 kilograms of rice.

Egypt does have a national school feeding program offered to about 5 million students a year who can show their need and attend school at least 85% of the time. According to the Global Child Nutrition Foundation, with the assistance of the WFP, the program offers younger children milk and biscuits, while older students receive more substantial “sweet pies.”

The school feeding program has been around since 1951 and has a progressive approach aimed at investing in girls, encouraging them to attend school by providing food and take home rations, and combating child labour through school food incentives.

But the political crisis has obviously shaken the country to its core. School feeding isn’t the only thing that is on shaky ground. The world will be watching to see how Egypt puts itself back together again.

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School lunch in Haiti

It’s been one year since the earthquake that killed 200,000 people and devastated Haiti, and the situation in the island nation continues to be difficult. Last week’s presidential election, according The Globe and Mail featured “massive irregularities,” much of the capital has yet to be rebuilt and some 3,500 Haitians have reportedly died of cholera since the fall.

With thousands of schools destroyed or damaged by the earthquake, the already-fragile education system— let alone school lunch— is still recovering.

That’s where the World Food Program comes in. Working in partnership with the Haitian national school canteen program, WFP will feed school meals to 1.1 million kids across the country this school year.

image from The World Food Program http://www.wfp.org

The meal is basic: usually rice and beans. If the school has extra money they’ll add some meat, fish or vegetables. At some schools, there are also take-home rations. It is often the only meal these kids have all day.

An innovative pilot project is also working at providing fresh milk from local dairy farmers for some schools. The benefits are two-fold: the program provides a ready market for farmers who are part of the dairy cooperative; and children at the designated schools receive two bottles of fresh, healthy local milk each week—something they’d be unlikely to enjoy otherwise. Now that’s a win-win situation.

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Behind the scenes: Dadaab refugee camp

One of the “countries” profiled in my upcoming book, What’s for Lunch? is not a country at all. The Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya (near the border with Somalia), however, are home to some 300,000 displaced people, mostly Somalis fleeing violence and lawlessness in their homeland. The vast, overcrowded, under-serviced complex may not be a country, but it is a world unto itself.

Built in the early 1990s to house less than a third of the current number of refugees, Dadaab (actually 3 separate camps) lacks pretty much everything, including adequate infrastructure (proper sanitation, water, etc.). Will Storr’s harrowing story in The Independent this summer called “No Way Out: Inside the Worlds’ Largest Refugee Camp” paints a vivid picture of what this means for hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis.

For children–some of the most vulnerable people in the camps—life in Dadaab can be incredibly difficult. Education is a right but less than half of the kids attend school. For those who do, there is fortified corn-soy blend (CSB) porridge served in the cup at left. Provided by the World Food Program as part of its food for education program, this school meal is intended to increase enrollment and attendance.

In this segment of Behind the Scenes, my ongoing series about the making of the book What’s for Lunch, a WFP worker in Dadaab offers some insight into why, despite the meal, enrollment continues to hover around 50%. It is part of an email sent to me when I requested more information about the school experience. I have edited it for the sake of  brevity:

An average refugee school has an enrollment of 2,000 to 2,500. The physical structures are tin-walled classrooms that were constructed during the emergency phase [the 1990s]. The structures are in a dilapidated state and need urgent renovation. The area is arid and semi-arid region where temperatures range above 37 celsius. Learners & teachers endure high temperatures inside these classrooms. Due to space constraints, lower primary runs two shifts per day and overcrowded classrooms contribute to a high drop-out rate among students and a low completion rate. Classroom to pupil ratio is 1:103 students (whereas the UNHCR standard is 1:40). Book to pupil ratio is 1:7 and minimum standard is 1:1; desks pupil ratio is 1:6 and minimum standards is 1:3. If every child wanted to go to school, they could simply not be accommodated.

It’s important to note that the WFP’s school feeding program has increased enrollment— but the poor conditions and limited facilities mean that these efforts can only go so far.

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