Iqaluit high school fights food insecurity with free hot lunch program

The lunch program, run by food studies teacher Lael Kronick, looks to teach students where their food comes from and what goes into making healthy food. Kronick started the program after observing her students and learning more about food insecurity in Iqaluit.

The program tries to source as much local food as possible

The program operates every other day of the students' six-day schedule. It started in mid-November it has not yet repeated a meal. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Fajitas were supposed to be on the menu for Inuksuk High School's new hot lunch program on Tuesday, but a weekend-long blizzard meant no food arrived by air cargo in Iqaluit.

The lunch program, run by food studies teacher Lael Kronick, made a quick change and served up spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic bread instead — several students' favourite meal yet.

Lunch is served by a mix of student volunteers, part-time student employees and teachers. The food studies class helps prepare it.  

"Part of our food studies program is having a conversation about where our food comes from, why there's food insecurity and how we're vulnerable in our food supply," Kronick said.

So when a blizzard rolls through town, it's an opportunity to look at why the program is trying to source as much locally as possible, she said.

Lunch is served by a mix of student volunteers, part-time student employees and teachers. The food studies class helps prepare it. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Most of the time the salad portion of the meal is grown right in the cafeteria with hydroponic tower gardens, but the gardens weren't watered over the holidays and are a little barren at the moment.

In the science section of the school, chickens are now laying eggs, but not enough to feed the 50 to 80 students who come through for the free lunch — offered every other day of the students' six-day schedule, 

The school is using the chicken waste along with the kitchen food scraps to create a rich compost that will go back into feeding the tower gardens.

"Kids are learning about all these different issues in all their classes and it's coming together in a cool way in the lunch program as well, in a very tangible, delicious way," Kronick said.

No meal repeated

Since the program started in mid-November, it has not yet repeated a meal.

Kronick says she aims to have a mix of meals the kids are familiar with and love, including traditional country food, and meals that are new and reflect the diversity of the city. Jerk chicken with rice and peas was a recent dish that felt new for a lot of students, she says.  

Food studies student Luke Cornthwaite, 16, says a good way to tell if a new meal was a success is if there aren't leftovers — he wasn't keen on the tofu dish.

Neither was his friend Simon Windsor. The two pay attention to in-school announcements to find out when the meals are being served and are big fans of the program.

"They're really nice to give out food for people who don't have money to pay for food," Windsor said.

Lael Kronick, the food studies teacher, says the students are still getting used to when meals are served and the fact that they can depend on them. (David Gunn/CBC)

Jusipi Curley, 16, says before the program, he didn't always eat lunch, though he hung out in the cafeteria playing video games with friends.

"It's been good for when I run out of money," said Curley.

Kronick says she's hoping to raise more funding to run the program every day. It took about $50,000 to get the program off the ground. The program is scheduled until the end of this school year.

As for class attendance or attention she says it's too early to say if the meals have made a difference. For now, Kronick says she's noticed one difference.

"Before this cafeteria wasn't full of kids during lunchtime, so even just seeing everybody sitting down together and eating, I see kids playing cards together...which is really nice to observe." Kronick said.

The high school also runs a breakfast program and often has bannock available at recess.

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