Monday, May 02, 2011

Musings on the muffins at the Canadian Obesity Network conference.

Yesterday marked the end of the Canadian Obesity Network's 2nd National Summit, and once again, CON threw a great conference.

For folks who care about nutrition, conferences can be tough events, and despite it having been a CON conference, the food was still challenging.

Take breakfast yesterday morning - a giant mound of muffins, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee. Nary a protein source to be found, and the muffins almost certainly each packing 500 calories and piles of sugar.

Now all told, the food at the CON conference was in fact better than most, but still likely was a long way from healthy.

The reason healthy conference food's a challenge is because to a large degree, the conference organizers are at the mercy of the hosting hotel, and with food often being left to the end to arrange, conference organizers may not have much energy or leverage to advocate for health.

To that end, I have a few suggestions for CON to consider when organizing their 2013 3rd National Summit in Vancouver - suggestions that would be applicable not just to CON, but for anyone organizing a major event.

- If healthy meals aren't always options, at the very least empower conference goers with nutritional information. In CON's case, prior to the conference why not lean on some RD members to crunch the numbers in the meals that are to be served, and then create little cards that can be placed in front of choices such that at least choices can be informed. I wonder too if this information isn't something that could actually generate sponsorship revenue with nutritional information cards having logos or visible sponsorships attached.

- Leverage meal costs/choices at the very outset of organizing. Talking food options from the get go may allow for configuring healthier menus as part of actually sealing the deal, and may also provide enough lead time for the hotel to round up ingredient lists for nutritional analysis.

- Potentially provide fewer meals. Sounds crazy, but that'll keep conference costs down, while at the same time allowing people to make their own choices. If there's a talk scheduled and the only thing available a big mound of muffins, most folks will have a big, honking muffin. On the other hand, start the talks a bit later and let folks fend for their own meals, and at least those who care, which at a CON conference I would hope would be a few, will find healthier options.

But please don't take this post as a slam. Conferences are enormous things to organize, and CON did an absolutely phenomenal job. More of a focus on food would just have been the proverbial icing on an already fabulous cake.

That said, I'm holding out hope for icing in 2013 in Vancouver!

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  1. Least it wasn't pizza =P

    Feeding huge numbers can be awfully tricky.

    Would you be happier with these instead? :

    You could probably even eat them cold.

    I found them when making up a Take-away foods themed menu for this week =D
    Relativity healthy

  2. Anonymous6:21 am

    How about having it at a hotel that has rooms with kitchens? And have all the attendees bring favourite recipes and cook. People can invite each other to their rooms for breakfast, for example, and get to know each other better. Since food is that the centre of nutrition, what better way to emphasize that?


  3. I'm always impressed with the food quality at Alberta Food Producer Association functions. Muffins are "4 bite" size, food is generally low fat and tasty and plates are small.

  4. Conference food makes me cringe, particularly breakfast. I always pack my own food and at least dine in my room for breakfast and join my group for a coffee or tea. Apples, peanut butter whole grain cereal and all bran, whole grain crackers, almonds, small ziplock bag with whole grain crackers, oranges and small individual tetra packages of soy milk travel well- don’t forget a bowl and spoon. I cannot tell you how many times I have been at a health conferences and people are looking at me with envy when I am eating an apple at a break or something healthy and they are stuck with what is being served.

  5. I thought the food at this conference was pretty good on the whole, considering it was a major hotel chain. There was one talk that had "bacon" in the title, which even served bacon for breakfast (and lots of it). I didn't see any sponsors listed, but assumed it was Big Bacon.

  6. LOL!

    We needed the bacon to put people in the seats.

  7. At least they have bacon!

    Perhaps it would be good to have some hardboiled eggs too.

    So called "healthy breakfast cereals" aren't much better than the muffins.

    Soy milk isn't particularly good either, nor crackers.

    If you look at the Whole Soy Story, or the Weston A Price foundation you will see why Soy can be problematic.

    Having more refined carbs isn't going to make it healthier.

    But if as you said there are some protein options that would be good.

    But anyway, why force people to eat certain foods. Have a variety of foods including healthy options so that all can enjoy.

  8. Theresa11:40 am

    Ask a power bar company to sponsor the event!

    It's my one and only breakfast go-to when at hotels and conferences. So many choices.

  9. So why do conferences all start at 7:30 am (making it nearly impossible to get a good brekkie into my kid, let alone me) and have "nutrition breaks" every hour and a half? At least most of the events I go to have lots of fruit. But I'd gladly start later and skip the morning muffin.

    The most fun break I had was at an alternative medicine conference. Every 45 minutes we all got up and danced.

  10. They really ought to put more focused effort on this and be careful not to come out as a perfect example of "practice what you preach" cliche. This type of things take a lot of time for planning, and I don't really see why they can't have a better healthier food option.