FNCE, you ask? The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Run by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the governing body of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) in the US. As a dietetics student who (God willing) round about February 2017 will be an RDN, I headed off to the conference to get the lay of the nutrition land! Along with several classmates.
The aviaphobes (Carolina and I) drove into Nashville together, an 8 hour trip. Well actually, *I* drove, because Carolina just got her license a few months ago. Frankly, neither of us relished the thought of an inexperienced driver getting us through the smoky mountains on the rainy, foggy day that ushered us into Nashville.
On the bright side, we stopped for a lovely lunch. This place sourced much of its food from the farmers market, which was literally next door. We were welcomed to our table with GIANT biscuits and really good apple butter.
And we admired the rustic decor.
I got an ENORMOUS plate of four side veggies. From the top, collard greens (so smoky and awesome, ate them all), spiced apples, squash casserole (I asked her what was in it and she said cream of mushroom soup and breadcrumbs but completely neglected to mention the bacon. So Southern, right? Like, duh, bacon goes without saying), and a butternut squash souffle that had toasted pumpkin. And yummy cornbread.
I definitely didn’t finish this, but made a lot more progress than I would have guessed at the beginning!
More driving. Hard core driving. All alone driving. In the rain driving. I felt like a very awesome very independent woman at the end of all that driving.
I convinced Carolina to hit up the hotel gym with me. I didn’t *want* to work out so much as *need* to move my muscles to relieve the torturous pain in my lower back/hamstrings/everything.
And then we got to have tapas! We shared a bunch of things.
This was the most cunning variation on a taco. The “bread” was fried green plantains, cooked and mashed down into a thin crunchy shell. The contents included grilled vegetables, goat cheese, and kale pesto. YUM!
Apparently Nashville has its own spicy fried chicken variation called “hot chicken”. We opted for a variation on a variation, “hot cauliflower”. This was cauliflower that was deep fried to crispy perfection with the most deliciously spicy outer crust. Plus, in an homage to buffalo wings, bleu cheese dressing. SO good!
We also split some croquetas, basically fried cheese balls.
They were a little boring but SO CUTE! And the pickled onions on the side were yummy.
The next morning our classmates got onto a plane and cheerfully bounded into our hotel room at like 7am. It was unnerving. I don’t trust Morning Persons.
But then we got breakfast at the FUNNEST place, Frothy Monkey.
I was reminded, not for the first time, that oatmeal has magical powers of keeping me completely full. All day. It doesn’t matter how high fiber or high protein or whatever other breakfasts I eat may be- they just do not compare to oatmeal!
Then it was conference time!
(Though I guess I should count my blessings that at least this year they left out McDonalds. Stay classy, Academy of Nutrition and Dietietics! Just kidding. They are constantly doing un-classy and embarrassing things. I was annoyed I had to join the Academy to get a student deal on this conference).
In Pepsi’s defense (or to throw shade at Quaker?) they own Quaker and other “healthy” companies.
Anyway, despite my misgivings with the Academy, I enjoyed many components of the conference. The opening speaker was excellent!
Doug Rauch, the onetime president of my beloved Trader Joe’s, opened a new store in Boston designed to reduce food waste (a term he dislikes, since he prefers to say “wasted food”- most of the food that gets tossed in America isn’t “waste”, aka “junk”- it’s perfectly edible! It’s food!) I’d already heard about that store, Daily Table, on NPR.
There are several cool things about Daily Table that I hadn’t realized, though.
- “Food deserts” aren’t the whole story. Yes, there are too many communities in the US that don’t have access to a nearby grocery store and have to rely on convenience stores, mini marts, etc. for food. However, affordability is a bigger part of the story. In many of those communities, even if grocery stores moved in, many of the residents would not be able to afford the more expensive fresh foods sold in grocery stores.
- The store held focus groups in the community before opening. What residents said is that they went to work, got home (often via transportation) and their families needed food THEN, not after waiting to get ingredients and cook. So rather than a traditional grocery store model, the store decided to devote most of its space to a large kitchen to make prepared entrees that are hot and ready to eat when sold. The prepared meals are cheaper than fast food (for example, each night there is a 1 pound chicken entree for $1.49) and much healthier. Which leads me to…
- The store has consulted with local health and nutrition experts (doctors and RDNS) to create awesome nutritional standards they require for all of their prepared foods, which you can read about here.
In this slide, he’s saying that at most nonprofits, upper level management spend 75% of their time on fundraising.
What’s cool about the Daily Table model is that it’s still a nonprofit, but it’s able to bring in revenue to support its operations. This can happen through relationships with manufacturers (for example, he said that most stores only want to buy whole chickens for making rotisserie chickens that are 2 pounds or less, so they can sell them for a consistent price and make a profit. Daily Plate can buy the chickens that don’t neatly fit into that category for a reduce price, and then when they sell rotisserie chickens, their customers get more meat for less money).
Speaking of getting more for less, I went a little crazy at the Expo which was FULL of free samples!
I had mixed feelings about various exhibitors who purchased booths. I plan to do some independent research in the coming months to see which companies have shady practices, which do actually seem to be working to improve the American food system, etc. For the purposes of this, I’ll just share some things that stuck out to me as I strolled around.
Kellogg’s booth had a really cool display with lots of whole grains sitting around looking cute.
And they had a cereal bar! (I always give Sheila, my cat’s name, when I make restaurant reservations/get Starbucks drinks/etc., because no one can pronounce Ileana).
Plain yogurt, muesli, peaches, raspberries, and almonds. Yum!
I actually thought I was going to turn into yogurt by the end of the conference (there were a lotttt of yogurt makers there including Dannon, Chobani, Siggis, etc.) and in general found myself jonesing for something NOT sweet.
So I liked this little dish from Chobani a lot: plain yogurt (tasted fairly high in fat, which is always better!) with olive oil, herbs, hummus, chickpeas, and pita chips. Yum!
There were lots of interactive exhibitors. I really enjoyed talking to the sorghum people! One woman was a sorghum farmer, and was really well-versed in talking about the different types of sorghum and the different health benefits. Did you know that you can get black sorghum which, like black rice, is high in antioxidants?
Other cool people I enjoyed talking to were the prune ladies (man, RDNs have no objections whatsoever to talking about poop!), the people now making organic Pedialyte-style beverages that aren’t made out of gross corn byproducts, the lentil people (next year the UN declared the official year of dried beans!) and the date people (who were SO NICE and gave me SO MANY DATES at the end of one of the expo days!).
There was a lot of WTFery too, like ugh, this:
More like MY worst nightmare. Kill me before I start eating fat free ice cream. What about a nice naturally fat free dessert like, uh, fruit instead?!
I’ve always been fond of Breyers Natural Vanilla because it doesn’t have a lot of unpronouncable crap in it. Their rep told me that they’re now making their ice cream from cows not given artificial hormones, and have fair trade certified vanilla. I dig that. (I’d dig it even more if they stopped feeding their cows antibiotics). The ice cream is as delicious as ever.
There was also a lot of randomness:
I’m sure Fiber Water meets the needs of some patients. We also saw a lot of food thickeners (for people who have dysphagia, difficulty or inability to swallow. It can help people avoid aspirating food and risking getting it into their lungs by only given them thickened foods and beverages). We also saw tube feeding products, and there was a company who made tube feeding products out of real ingredients, which was awesome. We’ve been learning a lot about tube feeding this semester. There are real risks to making your own tube feedings (i.e. just throwing real food in a blender) because it’s easy for bacteria to build up under blender blades. However, most of the pre-packaged, factory-safe tube feedings are made of like, corn syrup and corn oil and are pretty rubbishy. So I’m glad this company is trying to meet that need.
Also, beet juice is hot and may help athletic performance. Whoo boy it is good and beet-y.
Also, general deliciousness. Two of my favorites:
I also really loved that on one of the days of the conference, they had a special member showcase. On that day, dietitians could share products/web materials/books etc. that they themselves had produced. It was interesting to see what’s being produced for students to help improve our learning. It’s also cool to see dietitians who are being entrepreneurial and working to fulfill a need they see in the market (like measuring spoons that neatly remove spices from jars instead of making spices explode all over your kitchen!)
The Expo was where I first met Angela Grassi, who’s THE authority on PCOS, a condition that y’all should know more about. I attended a really excellent seminar about it at the conference.
Dude, this session was intense. Do you know what Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is? You should, because 6-10% of American women have it (myself included). It’s the leading cause of infertility in this country. It is ABSURDLY under researched (because duh, only women get it, so why would anyone care?) At the end of the seminar, the speakers went, “So, those of you in this room now know more about PCOS than most doctors in this country”. Awesome.
Do you have it? Or someone you know? You can refer them to this book or these fact sheets. I learned a lot at the presentation and am planning to make some changes in terms of the medical care I receive, and also perhaps think about supplements.
Along with the PCOS one, some other sessions I went to included:
- One on medical marijuana use for cancer patients (!)
- One on the gut microbiome and research being done into different bacterial compositions in people with different diets
- One on family-based therapy for kids and teens with eating disorders
- One on addressing malnutrition in people with addiction (which was not very good- I thought the speakers were patronizing and kind of insulting to anyone struggling with addiction)
And then I also took a little time (really a little, I’ll no longer make fun of people who go to conferences in cool places and never get to see the towns) seeing Nashville.
Pretty river views. (It was reallllly nice to walk around outside when we inevitably got sick of stale conference air).
One night I got thai food with my classmates. I was sick of Expo food (SO MUCH YOGURT. And granola bars, also) so I got a lovely fresh green papaya salad:
And spicy and tangy tom yum soup (which I hoped would help hold off the cold that was afflicting all my classmates but, alas, did not):
However, I had my most fun meals with my VERY SPECIAL EXCITING PERSON I got to meet in Nashville: my GODMOTHER!
My godmother is the coolest. She is a registered dietitian nutrition who has no patience for the uptightness and food police qualities seen in many RDNs. She has a huge sweet tooth and makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. She has been a fabulous mentor as I’ve gone through this journey to learning about nutrition.
Also, she lives in Washington State, 3,000 miles away from me, whomp whomp.
I was talking to her on the phone months ago and mentioned, totally off hand, that I was thinking about attending FNCE. She sounded pleased and said, “Oh, I’ll write it into my budget!” But then we didn’t talk about it for months, and as I was making my plans for the trip, I thought, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be cool if she ended up coming?” And then she did! Her hospital (she works as a dietitian at a pediatric hospital specializing in musculoskeletal surgeries) paid her way. So I got to stay in her room for FREE NINETY NINE! And got to soak up the quality time with her, which is way too scarce in my life right now. She is the BEST!
She took me out for several fancy birthday dinners (the conference concluded the day before I turned 27). This one, at Merchants, was exceptional (the sorghum people actually told us about this restaurant!)
The inside used to be a hotel and was beautiful.
We started with large and delicious pieces of bread (and we think that was sorghum on top of the butter!)
Then my godmother insisted that we each get appetizers. I got this SUPER YUMMY salad. You can see the dried cranberries, pepitas, and lovely bitter greens; but this dish also featured roasted acorn squash and a big old pile of burrata, yummmm!
I was basically already stuffed but managed to rally for some of this entree: grilled Gulf shrimp on a bed of potato puree, plus grilled cauliflower. The purple cauliflower was AMAZING and I wanted more!
Aside from the food, though, it was just really fun hanging out with my godmother. Staying up at night talking after we’d turned the lights out. Gossiping about boy drama (i.e. MY boy drama, since she’s been happily married for 39 years- since she was 19!- to my godfather). All the good stuff.
We also hit up expo photo booths from time to time. SO fun!
PS, we are both still Western cowgirls.