Open Letter: Stop headlining the pan-Canadian school food policy as a way to reduce food insecurity among children

December 9, 2022

Open letter

Open Letter: Stop headlining the pan-Canadian school food policy as a way to reduce food insecurity among children

December 9, 2022

Dear Minister Gould and Minister Bibeau,

We are writing to express our deep disappointment with the Government of Canada’s indiscriminate linking of claims about food insecurity reduction with the pan-Canadian school food policy consultation.

Since the inclusion of a pan-Canadian school food policy in the 2022 budget, the federal government has repeatedly linked this policy to the problem of household food insecurity in Canada. The National Advisory Council on Poverty reinforced this message in their 2022 report on the progress of poverty reduction, recommending a school food policy as a way to “address food insecurity among children”. Most recently, materials for the public consultation, from the press releases to the discussion paper and consultation questions, have framed this policy as a way to “reduce food insecurity and hunger”, despite providing no evidence to support the assertion. Indeed, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Advocates for a pan-Canadian school food policy have long recognized that universal, high-quality, and nutritious school food that fits community priorities is important in its own right, but that such programming cannot substitute for dedicated action on income adequacy. Your government’s conflation of school food policy with food insecurity reduction detracts from school food advocates’ years of hard work to build the case for a school food policy that addresses the diverse educational and nutritional needs of children.

Household food insecurity is a profound policy problem in Canada that by our research, whose data are used in your documents, affected 15.6% of two-parent families and 38.1% of female lone-parent families in 2021. Over 1.4 million children were living in food-insecure families last year, and this number can only have risen with the recent food price inflation.

This problem of inadequate access to food due to financial constraints denotes a broader experience of financial hardship and material deprivation, with serious implications for health. School meals cannot resolve food insecurity for the same reason other food provision initiatives cannot; they do not deal with the impoverished financial circumstances captured by these statistics. Providing meals in school is no replacement for ensuring that families have enough money to make ends meet.

As Canada’s leading research group on food insecurity, we are very familiar with the research on school food programs and food insecurity. In fact, we have authored some of the key Canadian studies on the topic. From our careful reading of the published, peer-reviewed literature on the relationship between food insecurity and participation in school food programs in high-income countries, your contention that a national school food policy will reduce food insecurity is completely unjustifiable. There is, however, plenty of evidence to show that the way to reduce food insecurity among families with children is to improve the incomes of those who are most vulnerable, namely low-income families.

The development of a pan-Canadian school food policy in respectful partnership between the Government of Canada, provincial/territorial governments, and Indigenous partners has long been called for as a national responsibility. The Government of Canada’s leadership is critical in moving towards a future in which the current complex and resource-limited patchwork of school food programs meets children’s needs equitably, from coast to coast to coast. We are concerned that the federal government’s perpetuation of the false claim that a national school food policy will reduce food insecurity will silence important discussions about how the federal and provincial/territorial/indigenous governments can reduce food insecurity among families with children.

We call for the development of a pan-Canadian school food policy to move forward without unsubstantiated claims that it will address the very serious problem of food insecurity among families with children in Canada. We also recommend that the federal government implement strategic improvements to the Canada Child Benefit, to reduce the extraordinary vulnerability of low-income and single-parent families to food insecurity. Finally, we urge the federal government to begin seriously engaging in policy discussions around household food insecurity that focus on addressing the root cause — inadequate incomes. The consequences for the health of Canadians and our healthcare system are too great to ignore.


Valerie Tarasuk, PhD, DSc hc
Principal and founding PROOF investigator
Professor, University of Toronto

Lynn McIntyre, C.M., MD, MHSc, FRCPC, FCAHS
Founding PROOF investigator
Professor Emerita, University of Calgary

Catherine L. Mah, MD, FRCPC, PhD
Founding PROOF investigator
Canada Research Chair in Promoting Healthy Populations, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

Herb Emery, PhD
Founding PROOF investigator
Vaughan Chair in Regional Economics, Professor, University of New Brunswick

Daniel Dutton, PhD
PROOF investigator
Assistant Professor, Dalhousie University

Add your support

We welcome all to add their names to this open letter. Join us in calling for clarity, accountability, and leadership on addressing household food insecurity and advancing a pan-Canadian school food policy.

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    Feel free to cite this open letter in any written submissions to the consultation on the pan-Canadian school food policy or share with your MP (find your MP).


    Algoma Public Health
    Basic Income Waterloo Region
    Campaign 2000: End Child and Family Poverty
    Cape Breton Family Resource Coalition Society
    Centre for Studies in Food Security, Toronto Metropolitan University
    Citizens for Public Justice
    Coalition Canada Basic Income-revenu de base
    Community Development Council of Quinte
    Community Food Centres Canada
    Community Society to End Poverty-Nova Scotia
    Dietitians of Canada
    Earth Education League
    Feed Nova Scotia
    First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Society
    FoodARC (Food Action Research Centre)
    Healthy Populations Institute
    I Can for Kids Foundation
    Kitchener Waterloo Chapter, Council of Canadians
    Land to Table Network
    Ontario Dietitians in Public Health
    Squamish Climate Action Network
    Squamish Food Policy Council
    The Fed Family Lab, Acadia University
    Timiskaming Health Unit
    Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks
    Vernon Seniors Action Network
    Vibrant Communities; Our Safety and Well-Bring Plan for Cornwall, SDD and Akwesasne
    York Region Food Council
    Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

    Abby Dafoe
    Adrienne Montani, Executive Director, First Call Child and Youth Advocacy Society
    Alex Gallant-Wood, RD
    Alex Lacarte
    Alexa Ferdinands, PhD RD, Postdoctoral Fellow
    Dr. Alicia Sarabia
    Alison Mildon, RD PhD
    Amanda Julien
    Amanda Solmes, Community Research Coordinator, Community Development Council of Quinte
    Amanda Wilson, Assistant Professor, Saint Paul University
    Amelia Gallant, RD
    Amy MacDonald, MScFN, RD
    Andrew Briggs
    Annalisa Salonius, PhD
    Anne Wheeler PhD
    Annette Dixon
    Asif Imran Khan, Policy Analyst, Feed Nova Scotia
    Avery Enns, BSc, RD
    Barbara Parker, PhD, Associate Professor, Lakehead University
    Barbie Matheson, Dietitian
    Bernadette Campbell, Registered Dietitian
    Pastor Bob Goos
    Bobbi Turko, Executive Director, I Can for Kids Foundation
    Bree Seeley
    Bronwyn Coyne, RD, MAdEd
    Bruce Knox
    Dr. Bryan Dale, Assistant Professor, Bishop’s University
    Candace Cunningham, MscFN, RD
    Carilyne Hébert, Vibrant Communities; Our Safety and Well-Bring Plan for Cornwall, SDD and Akwesasne
    Carol Stalker
    Carolyn Chu
    Catherine Littler, PhD Health Student, Faculty of Health, Dalhousie University
    Catherine Williams RD
    Chantal Bélanger
    Charity Alcocer, RD
    Chelsea Brown, RD – Public Health Nutritionist – Saskatchewan
    Christina Carter – Executive Director – Chebucto Connections
    Christine Fletcher RD
    Claire Tugault-Lafleur, PhD RD
    Coleen Nolan
    Cora Behan, RD, MPH, PHEc
    Dabin Choi, RD
    Darlene Edmonds
    Dawn Fortune, Registered Dietitian
    Deborah Lay, M.Sc., RD
    Denis Heng / Epidemiologist
    Dennis Raphael, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Management, York University
    Diana Anderson
    Dianne Oickle, MSc, RD
    Dianne Thompson R.D.
    Donald Barker, Synthesist
    Donna Whitham
    Elaine Power, Ph.D., Professor, Queen’s University
    Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, Professor Emeritus, Dalhousie University
    Elizabeth McGibbon, PhD, RN, Professor, St. Francis Xavier University
    Elizabeth Smith, RD
    Elwira Rosiak
    Elyse Quann, UpLift Partnership, Dalhousie University
    Erica Di Ruggiero
    Dr Farah Shroff
    Fei Men, The University of Alabama
    Franco Savoia
    Gabriela Lech, Squamish Climate Action Network
    Ginette Blake
    Gisèle Yasmeen
    Graham Riches, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of British Columbia
    Gurneet Dhami, BASc
    Haileigh Robb, PDt. MPH
    Heather Harvey, MHSc RD
    Heather Thomas, RD PhD
    Helen Wong
    Ian Marcuse, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks
    Ika Washington, MSc., PhD Student at York University
    Irena Forbes, Registered Dietitian
    Irene Lai, RD
    Jacqueline Eckert, RN
    Jacqui Gingras, Associate Professor, Sociology, TMU
    James Gibb PhD Student Northwestern University
    Jane Francis, PhD, RD, Post-doctoral Research Fellow
    Janis MacKay, RD
    Jean Carson
    Jennifer Brady, RD, PhD, Director, School of Nutrition and Dietetics, Acadia University
    Jennifer Sumner, PhD / Associate Professor (Teaching Stream) / Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, OISE/University of Toronto
    Jennifer Taylor, PHD RD
    Jennifer Welsh
    Jennine Seaman, MHSc, RD
    Jessica Hrgetic, MPH, RD
    Jessica Kwik
    Jessica Lefebvre
    JoAnna LaTulippe-Rochon, Executive Director, Cape Breton Family Resource Coalition Society
    John Klein Geltink
    Jodi Koberinski, Earth Education League
    Joy Knott
    K.E. Graves, retired
    Karen Davison-Miles
    Karen Fediuk, Msc. , Nutrition and Socioeconomic Researcher
    Karen Roundpoint RN, BScN
    Karling Draper, RD
    Kate MacLeod
    Kathleen Hodgins, Community Dietitian
    Kathryn Walton PhD, RD
    Kathy Sullivan
    Katie Nordby, RD
    Kayla Atkey
    Kendall Chambers, RD
    Kim McGibbon, Registered Dietitian
    Kim Harding
    Kim Raine PhD, RD, FCAHS, Distinguished Professor, University of Alberta
    Krista MacQuarrie
    Kristen Faulkner
    Krystle tenBrink, Executive Director, Squamish Food Policy Council
    Larry Phillips
    Laura Abbasi
    Laura Needham RD MPH
    Laura Vergeer, PhD, Research Programs Officer, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto
    Laurel Burton, RD
    Laurie Michael, RD, MPH
    Leigh-Anne Marchbank, RD
    Lesley Frank, Canada Research Chair in Food, Health, and Social Justice, Acadia University
    Liesel Carlsson, PhD, RD. Associate Professor, Acadia University
    Linda Spencer
    Lindsay Robertson, Public Health Nutritionist
    Lisa Bondar, Algoma Public Health
    Lisa O’Brien, RD
    Liz Blakeway, Director of the North Okanagan Land to Table Network
    Liz Fitting, Professor, Dalhousie University
    Lizah Reyes, MPH, RD
    Lori Jankowski
    Lorna Aberdeing
    Lorraine Dick
    Louise McColl
    Lucy Valleau, RD
    Lydia Lee, RD
    Lynn Roblin
    M. Firaaz Azeez – Executive Director, Humaniti
    Maria Shier
    Marie Welton
    Marilyn Hay, Kitchener Waterloo Chapter, Council of Canadians
    Marion I. Birdsall, PhD (Nutrition)
    Marion Sheridan,csm
    Marni Robert, RD
    Martina Gornik-Marion, RD
    Mary Ellen Prange
    Marya Skrypiczajko, Executive Director, Central Kootenay Food Policy Council
    Megan Dowling, RD
    Melinda Markey
    Mélissa Cardinal
    Melissa Pham
    Melissa Yule, Research and Evaluation Manager at Community Food Centres Canada
    Mercedes Hall
    Michaela Bohunicky, Public Health Dietitian
    Micheline Beaudry, Ph.D., professeure retraitée (Université Laval)
    Milka Milicevic
    Moe Pramanick
    Morgan Palmer, RD
    Mustafa Koc, Professor and Director, Centre for Studies in Food Security, Toronto Metropolitan University
    Natalie Appleyard, Socio-Economic Policy Analyst, Citizens for Public Justice
    Natalie Trudeau, RD
    Nicholas Hickens- Research project manager
    Nick Saul, CEO, Community Food Centres Canada
    Nicole Gavigan
    Nicole Spencer, MEd, RD
    Nicolette Felix
    Niesa Vernon, Public Health Nutritionist
    Nora Tomlinson Peach
    Oneida Carr
    Patricia E Swick
    Patricia (Patty) Williams, Professor and Former Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Policy Change, and Founding Director, FoodARC, Department of Applied Human Nutrition, Mount Saint Vincent University
    Peggy Friesen, Vernon Seniors Action Network
    Penny Marshall, Home Economist
    Phyllis Webster
    Rim Mouhaffel, MPH, RD
    Rob Green
    Ruth Harvie, PhD, PDt., NZRD
    Samantha Clow, RD
    Sandra Fitzpatrick, RD
    Sandra Frangiadakis
    Sandra Hall
    Sara Kirk, PhD, Professor, Healthy Populations Institute, Dalhousie University
    Sarah Dobrowolski, MD, PhD, Resident, Queen’s University
    Sarah Hewko, RD PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Prince Edward Island
    Sarah Shaw, BSc, MScAHN, PDt
    Scott Hall, Director, Nanatohk Miciwin, Universal School Food Strategy, Maskwacis Education Schools Commission
    Seamus Damstrom
    Seri Niimi-Burch
    Sharmini Balakrishnan, Registered Dietitian
    Stacie Smith, Co-Executive Director, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health
    Stella Lord, Ph.D., Community Society to End Poverty-Nova Scotia
    Stephanie segave
    Sue Bonsall, RN
    Susan Belyea, PhD
    Susan Forsyth B.Sc. B.Ed. Retired
    Susan Girardin, MEd
    Susan Mcbroom
    Suzanne Galesloot
    Syntyche Nakar Djindil, PhD
    Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University
    Tammy Galbraith
    Tekla Hendrickson
    Theresa Riege
    Thomas Hoeller
    Trevor Hancock, Professor of Public Health and Social Policy (retired), University of Victoria
    Véronique Cimon
    Vipin Saini
    William Oldacre
    Xiang Wang
    Zahra Hussain MPH
    Zoe Brenner, RD
    Zsuzsi Fodor, Facilitation and Engagement Specialist, Food Security, BC Centre for Disease Control