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!