Iqaluit high school cooks up free-lunch program
School-grown veggies featured in free meals to help feed hungry students
Students at Inuksuk High School aren’t just eating their greens; they’re growing them, too.
The Iqaluit school is just a few weeks into its new free-lunch program, and so far is able to source most ingredients used in healthy salads from a set of six hydroponic towers that are blooming with fresh leafy greens like lettuce, kale, spinach and bok choy.
“Basically all of our salads are now grown in the cafeteria,” said food studies teacher Lael Kronick. “We get this mix of very fresh herbs and produce that would be expensive or impossible to import, especially the fresh herbs and tender greens.
“It’s part of our conversation about food insecurity and food sovereignty.”
Kronick noticed a need for a lunch program when she started working at the high school last year.
“I heard from kids, and observed, that a lot [of them] did not have lunches,” she said.
So Kronick found funding through organizations like the Nunavut Food Security Coalition to change that problem.
Now, for three days out of the school’s six-day cycle, free lunches will be served in the school.
The free meals are meant to help build community and to make sure there is no stigma attached to the food, because it is for everyone, and not just students who don’t have a lunch, Kronick said.
Earlier this year, Statistics Canada reported that over half of adult Inuit in Inuit regions of Canada live in food insecure households.
Inuksuk High School has received around $50,000 in funding to run its new lunch program for this school year. The hope is to have the program continue in the fall of 2018, should additional funding be secured.
Last year, parents at Iqaluit’s Nakasuk Elementary School started an online fundraising campaign for a lunch program, after a report showed that 60 per cent of the territory’s children are living in food insecure households and that poverty and hunger have reached “epidemic levels in Nunavut.”
At the high school, the fresh veggies have gone down surprisingly well with students.
“Some students said, ‘nobody is going to eat kale salad.’ But we had a giant bowl today and it’s all gone,” said Kronick, adding that the same was true for a pan-full of baked carrot fries.
“For some people it is becoming their favourite days of the week,” Grade 12 student Anna Lambe said Dec. 7, when students flooded into the cafeteria for a main course of wholewheat mac-and-cheese.
Lambe is one of six students at Inuksuk High School chosen to run the lunch program as part-time paid employees. Students will help with cooking and cleanup for the meals, as well as caring for and harvesting food from the hydroponic towers.
They’ll also be certified as food handlers, and get training from Iqaluit chef Michael Lockley of the Qayuqtuvik Society Food Centre.
“It’s so helpful, especially where food insecurity is such a common thing, to be able to provide lunches not just for people in need but for everyone in the school,” Lambe said.
For Grade 10 student Angela Idlout, learning is why she got involved as a volunteer with the lunch program.
“I love to cook,” Idlout said, adding that when she cooks with her dad she spends a lot of time observing the process.
“I watch. I’m a visual learner when it comes to cooking. It helps me to learn how to use a teaspoon, memorize how much to add and how long to cook [food] for.”
These are all skills she is compiling “for the future when I want to make things for people,” Idlout said.
Right now that means practising her skills making pastries and cakes.
“I’m really into baking now,” she said.
Kronick said the school will be tracking the program’s impact, to see if attendance spikes at all following access to healthy meals at school.
The lunch program also hopes to keep country foods and international foods on the menu, by bringing cooking experts in from different culinary backgrounds in Iqaluit.
And while a slew of snowstorms in the city slowed down the program’s startup, so far students have been served muskox burgers and butter chicken as main courses besides mac-and-cheese.
“We’re still figuring out how to do it, there’s still lots of chaos,” Kronick said.
But a cafeteria table full of empty pots, pans and casserole dishes—as well as salad bowls and what used to be a plate of fresh fruit—clearly shows that the project is a success.
“A big part of it is trying to bring students together and having a community feel in this cafeteria,” Kronick said, adding that the next step will be to offer free lunches every day.