School feeding programmes make a key contribution to food security in many countries, and, as large purchasers of food, these programmes can contribute to the development of the agricultural sector. A new book titled School Food, Equity and Social Justice was discussed during the webinar, with special focus on the chapter about the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) in South Africa.
Editor of the book Dr Dorte Ruge, Associate Professor and lecturer in the Department of School and Social Sciences at UCL University College, offered an overview of the publication. “The book provides critical examinations of policies and practices relating to food in schools across 25 countries from an equity and social justice perspective,” she said. “Ultimately, the book aims to provide more knowledge about matters of social justice in diverse contexts, and visions of how greater equality and equity may be achieved through school food policy and in school food programmes. We expect this book to become essential reading for students, researchers and policymakers in health education, health promotion, educational practice and policy, public health, nutrition and social justice education.”
The book School Food, Equity and Social Justice was discussed during the webinar.
Dr Nokuthula Vilakazi, a researcher at UP, opened the conversation by talking about how school feeding programmes started. “School feeding programmes were first rolled out to specific schools in 1994. Initially, the programme was aimed at primary schools, and learners were provided with only one meal. Currently, the NSNP feeds more than 9 million scholars every day; some of these scholars receive more than one meal.”
Adding to the conversation, Thabang Msimango, a PhD candidate at UP, talked about what motivated her research. “Food safety in schools will always be a challenge. In 2001, it was found that peanut butter served to Eastern Cape children was toxic and could cause liver cancer. Just last month, more than 100 Eastern Cape learners presented with symptoms of food poisoning and were hospitalised. We collected water, soil and food samples at a number of schools in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Upon testing the samples, we found the potential for foodborne pathogens [bacteria that could cause disease]. This demonstrates that contamination may occur.”
Dr Marc Wegerif, a senior lecturer in Development Studies at UP, acknowledged the effectiveness and value of the NSNP, and provided ways in which it can be improved. “The programme is successful, but it could drive change,” he said.
“Better training for voluntary food handlers, using fresher produce and implementing food quality criteria are all ways in which we can improve the NSNP.”