A step in the healthy direction
As a parent concerned with food as it relates to health and learning, I am pleased to see that soft drink dispensers have been removed from Porter Creek Secondary School.
This is a huge, positive step towards overcoming the caffeine and sugar addictions that have caused such harm to our children.
As we all know, sugar is one of the worst “non-foods:” its empty calories promote obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, among many other problems.
So, congratulations to the school.
However, as I entered your new cafeteria I was surprised to see several shiny, new beverage dispensers carrying drinks produced by the same multinational corporations that profit from those harmful addictions.
I understand the income generated by the beverage sales, as with the soft drinks previously, is helpful for supporting extracurricular activities.
However, most of the money generated by these vending machines goes to the corporations.
Schools, on the other hand, only receive a fraction of the revenue.
I would like to propose some healthier ways to quench students’ thirst while still raising those much-needed funds:
Let’s start with one of our most essential needs: water.
In Canada, especially in the Yukon, we are fortunate that our tap water is both potable and good tasting.
It simply doesn’t make sense to satisfy this basic need with vending machines serving “brand-name” bottled water, with its huge environmental impact and cost to the consumer.
Empty plastic bottles are one of the most numerous garbage items at the landfill, and much fuel is unnecessarily wasted in trucking them this far north.
Typically, this product is nothing more than filtered tap water with a few added minerals to improve the taste.
The mark-up for this simple process is mind-boggling.
According to the September 23 Globe and Mail, a one-litre, Dasani-brand water is sold in Toronto supermarkets at $1.59, which is 3,000 times the price Coca-Cola Bottling Co. pays for a litre of municipal tap water in nearby Brampton, where the product is produced.
The switch from soft drinks to water is definitely a positive one, but bottled water is still an unhealthy choice … at least for the environment.
Did you know that there is a large and growing citizen’s movement opposing the very idea of bottled water?
According to organizations like the Earth Policy Institute based in Washington, and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, “Bottling and selling of water undermines in our perspective the use of a public good and public responsibility to provide water.”
In a surprising move, most Canadian churches have also joined this coalition.
They believe this essential human need should not be a commodity.
Here are a few practical ideas to fulfill the need for water without vending machines:
1) Instead of purchasing brand-name water, students can bring their own reuseable water bottles and fill them from the tap.
2) To produce flavoured water, I suggest a simple syrup made from Yukon wild cranberries and sweetened to taste. Just a small amount mixed with water makes a refreshing drink.
As we know, Yukon berries are an important part of First-Nations’ culture; they are extremely nutritious and have been used as a food staple for thousands of years.
Furthermore, berry picking is a wonderful outdoor activity and an excellent chance for students to experience our pristine forests.
This could easily be incorporated into the curriculum, perhaps as part of the physical education class during the fall, right from Labour Day ‘till snowfall!
3) Instead of Minute-Maid, and other commercial juices, which are produced by companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, I suggest buying cases of organic fruits and have students press them by hand.
Please note that the oranges used to make conventional orange juice come from heavily sprayed orchards.
Also, the sugar content in unsweetened Minute-Maid, for example, is near the same as a bottle of Coke or Pepsi. The sweetened variety actually contains more sugar!
Students could sell the flavoured water and fresh squeezed juices to their peers and their teachers. Money raised this way could more than compensate for the paltry cut redistributed to schools from vending machine sales.
If people are willing to pay for commercial juices, wouldn’t a quality, homemade product be even more appealing?
Following these simple changes could bring many more benefits to students, such as providing hands-on food-production skills and encouraging conservation and a respect for the environment.
They would be able to help contribute to their school’s needs for extra money for extracurricular activities, etc.
Engaged in this together, this could promote stronger bonds among students and teachers.
As a parent, I truly appreciate your bold decision to remove soft drink machines, hence protecting our children from a harmful and addictive substance.
I encourage you to go one step further and remove the bottled drinks altogether.
As explained above, it is perfectly possible to live without them and would be a great opportunity to teach environmental and social values by example and not only from textbooks.