The Government’s new policy to give school children healthier food choices has met stiff resistance from vendors who sell in and around the nation’s schools.
They are adamant that implementation of healthy alternatives in schools will fail as children already are socialized to consume unhealthy snacks.
When Barbados TODAY visited St Leonard’s Boys School, veteran vendor who gave his name as Vincent said that in his 44 years selling at Richmond, St Michael, he has tried to sell healthy snacks but he soon realized that students did not buy any of his alternative offerings.
“It is not going to work. I do it already [selling healthier snacks]. I used to [sell] grapes, apples, oranges, whatever, but they do not want them. Even if you bring juices it is the same thing. You can bring apple juice, carrot juice, mango juice they are not going to buy it. It has been tried already it does not work,” he said.
He declared that the School Meals Department failed to implement healthy options, as students refused to eat fruit which was given to them along with their hot meal.
“School Meals tried bringing health and it doesn’t work; all of the apples, oranges, and bananas they do not eat it. The workers get it, not the school children because the school children do not eat it,” Vincent said.
The veteran said healthy alternatives could not be introduced without having a junk option, which the students already have grown accustomed to eating.
“If you want to bring in health you would have to bring it along with the junk but you cannot just stamp out junk and bring health because they are not going to buy it,” he said.
Vincent offered a simple solution – ban the importation of all unhealthy snacks.
“If you all do not want we selling junk by the schools then don’t bring them in the island. If you do not want we to sell it in Barbados then don’t bring it in because you cannot bring it in then tell us don’t sell it. It is a waste of time. When we don’t buy them they are going to stop down the road and buy them so it is the same thing cause we are going to refuse to sell them at the schools and they are going to go into the supermarkets and in town and bring the [snacks to] school the same way,” he said.
Veteran snow cone vendor, Indian, who was operating in the Constitution River Terminal for over 40 years said that students would have to choose whether they would prefer an unhealthy snack such as a snowcone or a healthier snack.
“The school children will choose what they want. The choice is up to them I cannot say anything more. I leave it to them,” he said.
A newcomer to snowcone vending, Moisha Mayers, operating in the Constitution River Terminal had already identified coconut as her student-clients’ favourite flavor on her first day on the job. But she believed that natural fruits could also be used to make snowcone flavors.
“I believe most fruits you could turn into juice and you will give it and see if the school children would like it. It is not any guarantee but you can still try one or two things. Hopefully, they like it,” Mayers told Barbados TODAY.
But one vendor who gave his name as the Oilman, said that school children preferred natural juices and the popular Now and Later snacks.
He added that he was willing to make the change to more healthy snacks as he realized that a lot of school children were becoming overtly obese.
“A lot of children are obese already and they develop a lot of diseases from all the sweet things that they are using. They would seldom buy a fruit they would mostly buy snacks and we know that snacks ain’t so healthy,” he said.
The vendor’s comments came as the Director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) Sir Trevor Hassell launched a petition on Monday which sought to implore Government to address the issue of childhood obesity.
Hassell said HCC had the support of the Government which had implemented policies including the imposition of a tax on sweetened beverages.
“We in the HCC are particularly encouraged by the support being given by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to seek to implore the school environment with emphasis on reducing the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages to the children of our schools,” he said.
He was joined in support by the Minister of Health and Wellness who noted that the Government was prepared to tackle the issue of obesity and overweight by utilizing the statistics to provide a preventative policy.
“The statistics provide us with the opportunity to be able to come up with some policies to deal with the problems that we have in terms of obesity and NCD’s in general,” he then said.
Despite this, one vendor who identified himself as Grape Man said that the issue was that healthy fruits were more expensive then snacks, forcing low-income families to opt for snacks for their children instead of fresh fruit.
“Something I would like to address is price ranges. For children that do not have much money to spend on mornings and parents who do not have much to give their kids, it would be hard for the fact that you could give them a little balance for five dollars or so, ‘cause five dollars is a lot for a primary school child. But children who cannot afford that would be at a disadvantage from eating healthy he said,” he said.
His point was backed by a fruit vendor who identified himself as Roge, who declared that only “three per cent” of school children who use the Constitution River Terminal would patronize his stall on a day to day basis.
“Only three percent of children would buy fruits. They would more buy drinks or water sometimes and if I got tamarind balls they would buy tamarind balls, dunks or ackees but they ain’t buying certain fruits because I feel it is the price range too,” he said.
Roge also told Barbados TODAY that he believed that due to the dire economic situation, patents themselves were not buying fruit, as he noticed his sales decreasing in the last three years.
“People ain’t got no money; I know that for sure. They are scrambling. My sales have gone down in the past two or three years; only on weekends I [make a profit],” he said.
But over at Lawrence T Gay Primary School in Spooners Hill, St Michael, Michael Richards, who owns and operates a solar-powered snowcone cart said that that children enjoyed his snowcones.
“To be honest with you children like snow cones,” he said. (LG)