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Food for thought: applauding Ontario’s school nutrition standards

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

When I think back on all the crap I ate in high school. It’s a wonder I can think at all.

I apologize to Paul Simon for co-opting some classic lyrics for a column about food, but where else do you begin on a topic such as this.

A high school friend and I were waxing nostalgic about our Dryden High School cafeteria favourites of yesteryear the other day. His: the ubiquitous ‘bun and gravy’. Mine: the slightly more sophisticated deep-fried perogy.

After a cigarette on the school steps, we were off to afternoon classes, our semi-congealed blood moving in fits and starts through our brains and extremities — like sausage through a casing.

I remember the difficulty with which I struggled to stay awake in the afternoons, how I would most often nod off on the long bus ride home.

If it wasn’t for my daily 12-mile walk through the driving snows in 40 below-zero with the wolves nipping at my heels, obesity just may have set in early.

The new nutrition standards for Ontario schools are an interesting application of government that will take some getting used to for those who are affected by it.

Like the smoking bans of the past decade, a bit of a rough adjustment for some of us at first will likely age into normalcy. Then in five years, we will look back in wonder that it was once possible to buy an energy drink in a high school cafeteria, just like we wondered how people were ever allowed to smoke in restaurants or shopping malls.

Few sweeping public health initiatives escape comparison to ‘social engineering’.

So be it, I say. Where public dollars are at stake in preventable health care costs, the province has a responsibility not to enable behaviours proven to be unhealthy in every place it holds sway.

I won’t deny that a good part of my motivation to quit smoking six years ago had to do with the efforts of the province to make the practice unaffordable and restricted to as few places as possible. Those who sold me cigarettes as a minor, wouldn’t dream of doing so today. Call it ‘state coercion’ if you must, but marginalizing tobacco has been good for the residents of Ontario.

Mind you, when I was a smoker I thought the whole thing was rather fascist.

Junk food appears to be the new smoking.

Denmark recently imposed a Fat Tax on such items as butter, oil and any food containing over 2.3 per cent saturated fat. Hungary similarly taxes junk food while other European nations have banned trans fats.

Who among us will deny that there is a problem in our society that needs to be addressed?

When we weren’t looking, cola companies were buying our schools new gym scoreboards and franchise restaurant operators were scoring contracts to operate cafeterias. When we weren’t looking, physical education only became a required high school course up to Grade 9.

In this place and time, this is what is considered ‘normal’.

Childhood obesity is for the first time in my memory an election platform issue, something for politicians to debate on. Diabetes is considered ‘epidemic’ in Ontario’s northwest.

This is a great first effort to start addressing an issue that’s important to the northwest.

Chris Marchand


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