We shouldn't be sending kids to school hungry

This morning, one in seven Canadian children went to school hungry. In the poorest communities that number can reach 50 per cent. Despite this, Canada is the only G8 country that does not have a national child nutrition program in our schools.

Many people don't realize the extent of hunger in Canada. In a developed country like ours, it can be easily overlooked. Every month, nearly 900,000 Canadians receive assistance from food banks – 38 per cent of them are children and youth. These youth frequently go to school on an empty stomach.

As a mother, the thought of a child going to school hungry makes me angry. This is a serious issue and it is time for Canada to implement concrete solutions to resolve it.

The NDP has a vision for a national food strategy that links issues like hunger to our broader food system and the importance of poverty alleviation. The federal government needs to play a more active role in supporting the work of organizations on the ground.

During his visit last spring the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, sounded the alarm. Unfortunately, the Conservative government turned a deaf ear.

Mr. de Schutter urged Ottawa to create a national food strategy to fight hunger in Canada's most vulnerable populations, including First Nations and people who rely on social assistance. According to Mr. de Schutter, this strategy must involve municipal, provincial and federal governments.

Mr. de Schutter also blamed the Canadian government for making it harder for those living in the North to find affordable, healthy food, and for decisions such as the elimination of the long form census, which affects what we know about those who are most likely to be hungry.

Each time the Conservatives had the opportunity to show leadership, they sat on their hands.

New Democrats believe the time has come to implement a national food strategy, which would include a program to ensure school children have at least one healthy meal every day, wherever they live.

There are food banks, of course, but they cannot be the only solution. We need to look at the whole picture of hunger and coordinate efforts across government departments, with an integrated approach that connects health, income and food production. It can be done.

Many local initiatives are doing excellent work on the ground in various spheres of activity.

Thanks to the Breakfast Club of Canada, more than 130,000 children have access to breakfast every morning in 1,185 clubs across the country.

The Stop is an organization which seeks to increase access to safe and nutritious food while preserving the dignity of its users – an approach based on healthy communities and addressing inequalities.

These are but a few local initiatives which demonstrate that it is possible to make a difference every day. We need to make sure that every child in Canada has access to these kinds of critical supports.

To add your voice to ours, I invite you to sign our Farm to Fork petition, calling for a national food strategy that looks at the whole picture of food. You can find it here.

This piece was written for and first appeared on iPolitics.