In the past few years, it seems as though all eyes are turned towards children and their inability to have decent, nutritious meals. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently launched a television show in which he explored the inadequacy of school-provided lunches. He condemned the government for not providing enough money to schools so that they could prepare healthy meals for young children. What he neglected to say, though, was that the schools he visited were working class schools, and the children who generally ate inadequate meals were working class children.

Following Jamie Oliver’s television show, people in Toronto saw the emergence of special catering companies geared towards children. These catering companies realize that most children are eating improperly, and therefore want to provide nutritious meals to children at school. Yet, these meals come at a cost to parents. For working class families, it is hard enough to afford a loaf of bread and a brick of cheese, yet alone an entire meal that has been prepared by a catering company. Catering companies cannot be a solution to the problems of hunger and malnutrition if the majority of families cannot afford their services.

NDP MP Olivia Chow has proposed a national food program for children under the age of eighteen that would provide a healthy snack, breakfast or lunch. Chow wants the Harper government to initially spend $250 million in order to implement this program. And she’s absolutely right—we do need a national food program for children. However, the Harper government would prefer to alleviate child hunger through less costly methods. Tony Clement, the federal Minister of Health, would like to believe that cutting taxes will free up money for families to prepare decent meals for their children. But the Conservatives neglect to realize a number of important factors in this equation. Yes, working class children are eating poorly because of poverty, but working class parents also don’t have the time to prepare school lunches. It is hard to work two jobs and maintain a household when you can’t make ends meet. Where is the time to prepare a healthy lunch? And what about those families that do not pay taxes because they are that poor?! These families also will not benefit from Tony Clement’s scheme.

As for the doctors and nutritionists who believe that this is merely a problem of education, economic reality suggests otherwise. You can only teach children so much about food groups, portion size, or the glycemic index, but if these children come from families that cannot afford good healthy food to begin with, then your education won’t be worth much. Of course, nutrition and health should be taught in schools, but this education cannot be the solution to an obvious economic problem.

With the gap between rich and poor growing larger, we are faced with an ever-increasing problem—how do we feed our children? Most children do not get enough to eat on a daily basis, or they consume junk food because it is efficient, affordable, and accessible. Obesity is largely a question of class. While upper class families can afford to enrol their children in sports, to provide them with large backyards in which to run, or to send them to school with exotic fruit and nutritious sandwiches that the nanny prepared, working class families are confined to an eating dilemma: should I let my child starve, or should I feed my child McDonalds? As we can see, obesity is an epidemic that plagues the working class. Hundreds of years ago, individuals showed their wealth through greater body mass (if you were fat, you obviously had enough to eat); now, individuals show their wealth through their lack of body mass.

Olivia Chow, though, has devised a temporary solution to this problem of child hunger. If the government invests some money into a national food program for children, most children will be guaranteed at least one decent, nutritious meal a day. Parents do not have to worry about finding the time to prepare that meal, and children will receive a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis rather than relying on fast food, helping to curb this problem of obesity.

In the long term, though, this solution is merely a band-aid for a much larger economic problem: the problem of capitalism. Even though Chow’s proposal will ensure one healthy meal a day for every child in Canada, it will not ensure that children eat when they go home, or that children have an adequate home, or that all parents have enough to eat on a daily basis, or that all parents can afford the staples for raising children. Under our current economic system, a system that thrives on exploitation, the gap between rich and poor will continue to increase, and solutions to these problems will not be implemented because they are not profitable. And this is why we need a better economic model. Olivia Chow’s proposal for a national food program is a first step forward but for real change, we need to fight for socialism.