Food is important in every aspect of our lives, that is a simple fact on which everyone with functioning mental capacity can agree. Which is why the current idea that New Zealand should adopt the approach of many other countries and provide school meals is as much about education as it is a response to poverty.
It has long been acknowledged that well-fed students learn better, and that the greatest improvement that can be made to the process of learning is to ensure that a good feed is as important as a good teacher. Given that education is also the method by which our society develops a highly skilled and well-adjusted workforce, as well as contented citizens, food is also an important subject which future adults need to have a well informed understanding of.
To this extent, school meals are as much a practical aid to food education as they are a sustenance for at-risk kids.
Given that New Zealand depends on food for its economic survival, food savvie kids can do nothing but strengthen our future prospects, whether they go on to become farmers, marketing managers or politicians. The fact that well-fed adults are also more productive and less likely to become criminals is just an added bonus, but one that also has significant ramifications for our national bottom line.
So if it such a good idea, what will it cost? If we go for the Gold Standard, and give our kids meals of the quality and character that the French do, the cost per meal is NZ$7.50. In France half of the cost is born by parents who can afford it according to their taxed income, which in New Zealand would mean the state funds all of the cost of meals for 20% of the population, and 50% of the balance.
Based on 744,000 students (2011 figures) and 200 days of schooling per year, the cost would add $781 million a year to vote education. Of course this would also be an injection into the economy at a time when it is desperately needed, and would have measurable long-term impacts on the cost of crime in our community of more than $10 billion. There would also be substantial health benefits from healthier diets and better learning outcomes.
It could be reasonably argued that NZ$.75 billion on healthier, happier, more educated citizens via school meals is a wiser spend on our collective safety than the NZ$3 billion currently “invested” in our Ministry of Defence.
Whatever the fiscal debate may be, in terms of our national wellbeing, how can we not seriously consider this proposal. If the only reason is education, consider Finland’s decision when establishing what is widely considered the world’s best education system, that one of its cornerstones should be the provision of a balanced diet for all its students. Breakfast as well.