I really enjoy attending my national associations annual conference. Every year I peruse the exhibits, passing by some booths, and stopping at others. I pick up some written material (new product info, or nutrition profiles) and also pick up some of the actual product samples. Not only do these serve as mid-morning snacks, but I get to sample products to determine if they are something I want to buy or recommend.

For the past couple of years there has been a few association members who are questioning the corporations who sponsor both the meeting and partner with the organization. Sponsorship is not an issue to me. Yes, I feel there should be thoughtful and open discussion about sponsorship guidelines, but I still contend that for a “food and nutrition” association, food companies (even those that some like to call “big food”) have a place there.

I am not a member of the group formed within the past year called “Dietitians for Professional Integrity” (DFPI). Certainly this is not because I don’t have professional integrity, I do, and practice under the guidance of my association’s code of ethics. I always disclose when I am writing, speaking, or otherwise working for or representing a company or client. Some registered dietitians have “signed on” with DFPI not really knowing what they are signing on for. I have seen the group act in ways that is the opposite of integrity, and I frankly don’t support their methods of communication (bashing industry, one-sided “unhealthy” call outs to company’s such as Pepsico or McDonalds, and questioning dietitians who work for food companies or corporations).

DFPI’s stance is that there are some food companies (“Big Food”) or food associations (“Big Ag”) that have no place at all partnering with our food and nutrition association. While their focus seems to be in the interest of public health, they ignore the fact that 1.) The public consumes these foods, and 2.) a large percentage of our membership works in the food business, not the health business. And, that it is a business. Anyone who has ever attempted to organize a large community or professional event of any kind certainly knows that sponsorship is critical. The money to support the event or meeting has to come from companies or businesses who have an interest in your organization. In our case, food companies certainly have an interest.

It will be a slippery slope to eliminate a few sponsors, but keep the rest. On what grounds will a small organic company that makes fake “fruit and veggie snacks” be okay to have in the exhibit hall, but a large chocolate company, not be okay (even though we know that people do indeed enjoy eating chocolate, and there may be some health benefit to the flavonoids within it). Companies have a right to get their own fact-based information out there.

Real or Fake?

“Eat more whole foods”, is often advocated in the context of a healthy diet which should limit processed, packaged food. Is this “real fruit and veggie snack” an okay processed food to include in the exhibit hall?

This year at FNCE©, I picked up this new packaged snack called Shredz™. They tasted alright, they weren’t spectacular. Sure, they are made from organic fruits and vegetables purees or concentrates (the ingredient list also includes pectin, citric acid and natural flavors – nothing to worry about, but added to create this packaged snack food), but it’s not “real fruits and vegetables” nor is it a “whole food”.

Sure, give them a try if you like, but I still recommend eating real apples and pears, and real carrots. I think there’s a bigger issue with these kinds of snacks being substituted for “real fruit”, as opposed to comparing potato chips to baked potatoes. The chips are clearly a treat, not an intentional substitute for fresh potatoes.

I hope that folks can agree to disagree, and not assume there is one right way to deal with sponsorship. Large national meetings require quite a bit of money to organize, and I enjoy being able to choose to visit various food companies all in one spot while I’m there. It’s my personal choice to choose to purchase food and beverage products, or not. It’s my professional obligation to share the facts about these foods and beverages, and help consumers understand how to limit or include them in a healthy lifestyle.

Let’s not over process it. The fact is, companies are in business to do business and make money. Many also choose to do good (as in donating to foundations or charity) and most respect the input from the registered dietitians on their team who work on nutrition education or product development. Peace.