Sunday, October 14, 2012

Philly + Farming + Fracking +Food = FNCE

Last week I flew to Philly for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' annual Food & Nutrition conference & Expo (FNCE).  After following the conference on Twitter last year I was excited to see if all the buzz was genuine or critical hype. I had to see it for myself.

The opportunity to attend FNCE presented itself when I took on the role of co-editor of the member newsletter of the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (HEN DPG). I'd joined HEN after hearing many of the dietitians I admire rave about it, and with a focus on sustainable and accessible food and water systems, it is one of a few groups of dietitians who practice with the larger intention of creating a more just and equitable food system based on the belief that healthy soil produces healthy food which nourishes healthy people (a syllogism I borrowed from J.I. Rodale).

As a newly registered dietitian, I felt like a bit of a phony joining a leadership team and attending a conference with thousands of professionals who have far more experience. But from the moment I boarded the plane in Seattle I knew I was in for a treat. As I waited at the gate I looked around at the other passengers. It was clear that many others were dietitians too. So I wasn't surprised when the woman seated next to me on the place opened a folder with the conference logo on it. I mentioned that I too was headed to FNCE and we began to chat. She and her husband were heading there together, as they did nearly every year. We became quick friends and decided to make our way together from the airport to the city center. I was mortified when, aboard the train I realized I had no cash on me. But when the conductor came around my new friends paid my $7 fare. I was touched by their generosity. "Pay it forward," they told me. Still, I mailed them back their money earlier today.

And so it continued. On my first night in town I met the HEN leadership team I'd been corresponding with via email and conference calls and I was invited into their inner circle. It was an amazing experience to meet and speak with dietitians whose work I'd admired for years. Voices were familiar from podcasts and interviews and lectures I'd heard in the past. While I was clearly the new girl on the block I was welcomed as though I belonged and I marveled at the generosity of my colleagues. Later, as I tried to explain the feeling to my mother I remembered an incident that I hadn't thought about in over twenty-five years. When I was in kindergarten I boarded the school bus at the very last stop and could not find an available seat. I walked further and further along and could feel the lump forming in my throat as I searched for a place to sit. When I reached the back of the bus a group of eighth graders saw me and snatched me up. They must have seen my distress or thought I cute and they squeezed me in on the seat between them. For the rest of the school year I never had to worry about finding a seat. I knew the older kids had my back. FNCE was like that for me, only the support of the HEN members extends well beyond the conference.

In the various sessions I attended I heard dietitians speak about the inspirational work they are doing in their communities. I spent hours in the evenings debriefing with intelligent, civic-minded RDs about the field, the Academy and the future of our profession. I visited the Rodale Institute and an organic dairy farm. I attended a film "feastival" where I learned about the horrors of fracking (truly frightening! educate yourself!) and a non-GMO event in support of CA proposition 37.  At a breakfast one morning honoring leaders in integrative and functional nutrition I had the chance to thank the dietitian who had inspired me to study nutrition five years ago. Life had come full circle.

And finally, the expo did not disappoint. (Well, actually it did!)  I tried samples of more gluten-free items than I ever could have imagined and took pictures of the infamous booths of industry adversaries whose sponsorship undermines the work of dietitians everywhere. Had I not gone to into the expo I might now have believed all the critics who said that industry had infiltrated the profession. But then there was the program, with its alarming number of industry sponsored presentations and research. While I chose to spend most of my time in the sessions that appealed to me, I enjoyed following the live-tweeting of dietitians who were vocal in their criticism of these obscenities. (Three sessions sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association? Really?)

I left FNCE knowing that there's a growing movement within dietetics that is trying to shift the internal and external focus of our field, to empower communities to take charge of their health and the health of the planet. I was inspired by their work and honored to be considered a colleague. Looking forward to Houston next year! A line I never thought I would utter...


  1. Thanks for your recap on this, Rebecca! I joined HEN a few months ago and am so impressed and inspired by their mission and efforts. Glad to hear that you are co-editor of their newsletter! I wish I could have gone to meet everyone this year. I understand what it's like to attend your first FNCE. I was the "ADA" rep for the SNA at Bastyr and attended the conference by myself in Boston a couple years ago. It was an eye-opening experience, but good to develop awareness and a critical eye. Glad you found a niche you feel honored to work with! Let me know if you catch wind of any other involvement opportunities with HEN...I'd be happy to help out. :)

  2. Rebecca - what a lovely synopsis of your first FNCE experience. I know you'll have many more! I'm so glad you have already found a home with HEN and that you didn't wait to be 'experienced' but jumped right in to join the leadership team. You will be an amazing asset bringing your fresh perspective to HEN while you develop your leadership skills. You will pay it forward every day as you advocate for community health through sustainable and just food systems. Good luck with the job search - someone will be lucky to get you! You're always welcome back on our farm - anyone who has cleaned garlic with a toothbrush for us will always be part of our 'family'. :)
    Diana Dyer

  3. Thanks Diana! I look forward to my next chance to visit your farm. I have fond memories of cleaning Inchelium Red :)

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with us which is helpful you and as well as for us.