An Investigation into the Failure to Implement a Universal School Lunch Program during WWII and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada: The Case of Ontario
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The purpose of this research is to investigate the various social, political and economic factors that contributed to Canada’s failure to implement a universal school lunch program during the 1940s. Although Canada developed several other social welfare programs in the post-war period, it remains one of the only industrialized nations that does not provide hot meals to children in elementary or secondary schools. Data from the province of Ontario, a major site of postwar reconstruction and policy-making, has been taken up to inform the broader national discourse on school lunches from the 1940s. National, Ontario provincial and City of Toronto archival records were collected and analyzed according to common themes, in order to identify key barriers that constrained government support of a hot meal program. Archival records were identified using key words, and were limited to materials created between 1930-1952. Analysis suggests that sufficient need for a hot meal program had not been established during the 1940s. Despite misleading nutrition messages, rates of malnutrition and nutrient-related disease were at an all-time low, and many Ontario school boards did not appear to have the necessary infrastructure required to supply all pupils with hot meals. The Canadian government had already employed significant resources to improve existing social security programs by coupling them with health education. This strategy reflected a shift in understanding malnutrition as a knowledge-based problem, as opposed to income-based. This understanding was further reinforced through the moralized dissemination of nutrition information, which placed blame on women for improperly raising their children. Ultimately, the strong uptake of nutrition as a public health issue in Ontario may have limited prospective responses to solutions already utilized in the public health domain, and directed favour away from a universal school lunch program for Canada.