October 18, 2012

Nutrition Conference or Junk Food Expo? Reflections from a Confused Dietitian

Allison Righter, MSPH, RD

Allison Righter, MSPH, RD

Meatless Monday crew at FNCE 2012

Last week I returned from my first Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) hosted by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND) in Philadelphia, PA. As a relatively new Registered Dietitian, I didn’t really know what to expect from this conference and simply hoped to network with fellow dietitians and receive continuing education credits for attending informational sessions. Little did I know that those few days I spent in Philadelphia would be some of the most confusing, inspiring, revolting, enlightening, and motivating days of my professional career to date.

Walking through the expo hall amidst the overwhelming presence of “Big Food” corporations promoting their version of nutrition would induce similar mixed emotions from any rational human being, I would hope. Seeing Big Food’s biased information then spill over into the messaging at many of the educational sessions was even more enraging and disappointing. One Registered Dietitian, Andy Bellatti, shares his experiences at FNCE and voices similar concerns in a recent blogpost titled “How Did My Profession’s Conference Get Hijacked by Big Food?” (I would also encourage you to read through some of the comments at the end.)

Corporate sponsorship of the Academy has been a controversial topic for many years now and is, in my opinion, jeopardizing the integrity and legitimacy of the RD credential. Despite an abundance of anecdotal evidence, formal reports on membership approval of sponsorship have been virtually nonexistent – until recently, that is. Results from a study published in September of this year —“Member Attitudes Toward Corporate Sponsorship of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”—suggest that many dietitians feel strongly that the Academy should be more selective as to which corporations should be allowed the sponsor the association.

In the aforementioned blogpost, Bellati brings to light the work of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition (HEN) practice group, an emerging subgroup of the Academy that focuses on broader food system issues and has become increasingly unhappy with Big Food’s influence on the Academy. They recently released their own guidelines for responsible corporate sponsorship that they hope will slowly trickle upwards into the Academy as a whole.

I am delighted to be a member of HEN practice group, and it was really only during their sponsored events at FNCE (which included an Organic Valley Dairy & Rodale Institute Farm tour; a Film “Feastival” covering the issue of water as a threatened resource; and a spotlight session, titled “A Systems Approach to Ending Hunger”) that I felt encouraged and proud to be a dietitian. I really look forward to engaging more with this group and identifying areas that CLF can collaborate on and support their work.

I am also happy to report that our friends at the Mondays Campaigns in New York had a positive and successful experience promoting Meatless Monday and The Kids Cook Monday materials at their booth. According to Peggy Neu, President, “Many attendees said they didn’t know there was an organization behind Meatless Monday and were excited to learn of all the free resources and other Monday initiatives.” Bellatti highlighted their booth as one of few “bright spots” on the expo floor, and I would agree.  It’s important that these smaller non-profit organizations and independent food companies (like Mary’s Gone Crackers, Lundberg Farms, Organic Valley Dairy, and Nature’s Path, to name a few) that actually seek to promote the public’s health continue to have a presence at these conferences. And despite my frequent frustration with my own professional association, I will continue to fight the battle from within and work with other dietitians to, as Bellatti says, “take back our credential.”


  1. Its a Junk Food expo. Big Food has so much influence on the Acadamy. Why are we still telling people “all food is ok in moderation”? It is not working. Americans are more obese than ever. This organizaiton is completely ineffective. We should say “avoid these foods” or say “with restraint” regarding cookies, candy, soda, ect. But no, instead, we “partner” with the companies that make these junk foods. It makes no sense.

  2. Allison, thank you for writing such an honest and thoughtful post about our annual meeting. Thank you for recognizing HEN’s contributions and our will to uphold the integrity of our profession.

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