Unlike the past few posts which have dealt with specific topics, this is a hodgepodge of odds and ends, thoughts, suggestions, and anecdotes from the 2011 American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo.
WHAT I LIKED
- Meeting members of the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition practice group, which concerns itself with issues of public health nutrition (i.e.: pesticide exposure), access to healthy foods, and corporate sponsorship within the American Dietetic Association.
- Speaking with many student members/future RDs interested in — and informing themselves about — issues of food politics and food industry deception.
- A point-counterpoint session I attended on routine administration of antibiotics in cattle feed. Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy made many excellent points about the dangers of this disturbingly common practice. I also appreciated that the differing viewpoints were discussed respectfully, and that the topic was approached with a high level of discourse focused on science (ecology, microbiology, animal physiology, etc.).
- The presence of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine at the expo, along with smaller, independent companies which market whole food products and advocate for organic agriculture and the importance of avoiding genetically modified ingredients.
- The nutrition-related sessions I attended delivered the same message — the more real, whole food you eat, the better your health (that goes for everything, from cardiovascular health to mental health to arthritis to asthma). This nutrition message needs to be better reflected on the expo floor!
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE
- The Big Food sponsorships.
- The fact that smaller, organic/natural food companies had small booths off to one side of the expo floor while ‘big players’ (PepsiCo, General Mills, Coca-Cola, etc.) had central locations and sizeable booths.
- I attended a session titled “How Risky is Our Food? Clarifying the Controversies of Chemical Risks“. Given the title, I expected a ‘data review’ of sorts that would leave the audience thinking, “The new research on BPA sounds interesting; I want to look into that further.” Far from it! Although two speakers presented, only one viewpoint was disseminated. That viewpoint? Pesticides and BPA are safe; organics are overrated. Absolutely appalling. One of the speakers spent ten or fifteen minutes discrediting the work of the Environmental Working Group (specifically their Dirty Dozen List). The EWG has since become aware of this talk and posted an excellent response (read this article for context; on page 2, scroll all the way down, click ‘Expand Comments’, and read comment #3). Alas, the talk was sponsored by none other than industry front group IFIC (International Food Information Council). Sessions like this one make the ADA look amateurish, biased, and unprofessional.
- ADA needs to break off the frustratingly symbiotic relationship it has with Big Food. I encourage the ADA to get money from whole-food commodities (almonds, walnuts, avocados, blueberries, etc), but also think outside the food box (i.e.: fitness and sports companies, the technology sector, media, etc.). This is feasible, since sponsorships only make up approximately 10 percent of the organization’s budget.
- As far as the expo goes, if Big Food isn’t going anywhere, the playing field must be leveled. Give all companies/organizations at the expo the same amount of booth space, and have the booths organized by alphabetical order (or alphabetically by industry type, if it so helps). Companies would still have the freedom to decorate their booths as splashily as they like.
- Present both sides of issues. Monsanto had a booth at this expo; why didn’t the Non-GMO Project have one? Perhaps they didn’t ask to be part of the expo. If that is the case, that is where ADA needs to step in and at the very least extend an invite, if only to show they are committed to giving a voice to the other side of the GMO debate. Many of the conference attendees are students and interns just getting exposed to various issues; they should know that there are alternatives to GMOs, and also learn why so many people specifically avoid them and want them out of the food supply.
ODDS & ENDS
- The Hunger & Environmental Nutrition hosted a Film Feastival (featuring local and organic catered food!) where they screened Living Downstream, a documentary based on the book of the same name by ecologist Sandra Steingraber, which looks at the connections between environmental toxins and cancer. The screening was followed by a panel, where Registered Dietitian and organic farmer Diana Dyer said the following in regards to the importance of the Farm Bill : “It’s not just that we are what we eat. We are what we grow. And what affects that? Policy.”
- “Natural” was the buzzword at almost every booth. Because of the FDA’s loose stance, food companies can use it as they see fit. Frito-Lay, for instance, laughably claims their chips are natural even though they use genetically modified ingredients. More conscious companies use the word ‘natural’ on their packaging to mean no GMOs. Alas, without a clear definition from the FDA, consumers can expect to continue to be confused. My advice to consumers: look for specific words (organic, non-GMO, etc.). When in doubt, e-mail a company and ask. If they indeed do not source GMOs, they’d be more than happy to tell you. PS: The Non-GMO project has an extensive list of approved companies.
- Most Overused Phrase: “Meets MyPlate guidelines”. So what? Any food — no matter how heinous — can technically be part of MyPlate. Meaningless.
- Most Heinous New Product: Edible stickers. Michele Simon and I happened to be standing nearby when the company that makes this product (Fruity Faces) approached the McDonald’s booth with a sales pitch, imposing PR person in tow. The short pitch we got is that this is a ‘good’ product because it encourages children to eat fruit (the PR person’s response to our lack of amusement: “well, would you rather have them dipping apple slices in caramel?”, as if that were the only other way in which a child could possibly eat an apple slice).
Check out the ingredients:
Sugar, hydroxypropylmethylcellulose [modified cellulose] , water, natural flavor, modified corn starch, glycerin, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, citric acid, red beet concentrate, turmeric, red cabbage extract, caramel color, sodium bicarbonate.
Need I say more?
I hope you’ve enjoyed the coverage of the 2011 ADA conference and expo. Thanks for staying in touch via Twitter and sharing your reactions and responses. And, who knows… maybe we’ll do this again next year!