This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.
“A frantic and frenetic celebration of food and nutrition.” Registered Dietitian Leah McGrath looks back at her experience at this year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.
FNCE… (pronounced “fen-cee” ) is the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). With some 100,000 members, AND is the largest organization of nutrition professionals in the world. FNCE of 2017 was a special occasion, marking the 100th year celebration of the founding of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetics Association). It was not surprising to hear that 13,000 FNCE attendees had journeyed from across the United States, Canada and, in fact, the world to attend the event, which this year was held in Chicago, October 21-24th. A group from South Africa had flown for most of the day to be in Chicago and even a contingent of students from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico attended.
If I had to describe FNCE, it would be a combination of the Academy Awards, Trick-or-Treat, and a college or family reunion rolled into three jam-packed days of marathon race intensity, complete with thousands upon thousands of steps walked. The massive Chicago exhibition center, McCormick Place, provided the venue for numerous educational sessions on a variety of topics, everything from school nutrition and nutrition for seniors to new fields of study presenting research on nutrigenomics, gut health and probiotics. Sessions were also offered on the future of food featuring content on biotechnology and agriculture as well as professional development to acquire skills in media, social media, entrepreneurship and even how to create a viral video.
ah McGrath with friend, Kim Bremmer (@AgInspirations), at FNCE this year. (Image credit: Leah McGrath)
For many, their concept of the role of a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is typically linked with school nutrition or working in a hospital setting, i.e., clinical nutrition. But with so many members, the vast array of expertise was reflected not only in the educational tracks, but indicated on their registration badges and also in their attire and often uniforms that they wore: sports nutrition, public policy, media, working with food brands and commodity boards, research, the military, retail dietetics, education and teaching are all just a few of the areas where you can find dietitians.
Academy Awards: In addition to educational sessions, FNCE featured keynote speakers from the Academy leadership as well as celebrities. This year two of note were Sanjay Gupta and Kimbal Musk. Gupta was the featured speaker at the opening session. A neurosurgeon and CNN commentator, Gupta, had a mostly engaging and often entertaining presentation about his travels around the world to war-torn areas. He seemed to promote a “food as medicine” mantra, which for some seemed a bit surprising considering the fact that as a neurosurgeon, food would not be treatment for his patients. Additionally, some of my fellow dietitians questioned how much value he places in dietitians since they failed to recall having ever seen dietitians featured on his health segments. Kimbal Musk, brother of the famed Tesla inventor, Elon Musk, and son of supermodel and dietitian Maye Musk, also proved to be a somewhat puzzling choice. While his work with school nutrition and urban hydroponic farming was highlighted in his talk, he also seemed to have a very definite bias against corn and soy farming in the United States, and some very negative opinions and misinformation about government involvement in farming, and yet professed to be a supporter of science in agriculture.
Trick-or-Treat: Another part of the FNCE experience was the Expo Hall. This is the vast exhibition area that housed over 300 exhibitors of food and other products as well as student poster sessions. Many dietitians eagerly look forward to the Expo Hall as an opportunity to check out new technology, sample new products or reformulated products with new ingredients or flavors and load up bags with giveaway items (swag) like coupons, mini samples, thermometers, oven mitts and much more. In years past, the Expo Hall was characterized by large booths featuring major Consumer Product Goods (CPG) brands like Kellogg’s, Nestle, Hershey, PepsiCo, Chobani and more. Many of these booths seemed to have disappeared, or at least downsized, and instead I saw more booths promoting supplements, probiotics, healing crystals and even an area with massage chairs. Some of the trends visible in Expo hall products were plant-based beverages, flavored waters, protein-enhanced items as well as a dizzying array of snack and meal bars.
Reunion: Educational sessions, the Expo Hall, speakers...these are just the tip of the FNCE experience, which also is full of chance encounters with former classmates or employers while waiting in line at Starbucks, parties thrown at Chicago restaurants and event venues by brands and dietetic practice groups, and huddled conversations and meetings to network and make connections and business deals.
Overall FNCE is what you make it, an annual frantic and frenetic celebration of food, nutrition, education and connections.