Why I’m not a Member of the Academy

Well, I guess there’s no better way to kick off this baby blog than with an extremely controversial post. I want to write a little bit about why I am not a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (also known as the Academy or the AND). I know that I may not make very many friends with this post, but it is something that is important to me. I am passionate about what I do and I want the best for members of my profession and for our clients.

Ostensibly, the Academy represents and advocates for credentialed nutrition professionals – Registered Dietitians (RDs) / Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)* and Dietetic Technicians, Registered (DTRs). As their website states, they are “committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.” They offer nutrition information to the public on a variety of topics from men’s health to food safety. To their members, they offer several perks – free or discounted access to publications, competitive pricing to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference Expo or FNCE (a yearly gathering of nutrition professionals and representatives from the food industry), free or discounted continuing education units – required for recertification as an RD/RDN – and more. They also list your name on their website under the “Find A Registered Dietitian” tab, thus making you more visible to potential clients. All of these benefits seem great, right?
*The RD and RDN credentials mean the same thing. At about the same time that the Academy became “The Academy,” rather than its former moniker of the American Dietetic Association, they also started transitioning the phrasing of the RD credential to reflect the more standard title of “nutritionist” rather than just “dietitian.”

The problem, for me, is that the Academy has WAY too many ties to Big Food. These are the companies that we in the nutrition world see as dominating the U.S. junk food market – and, in many cases, the global market as well. Michele Simon has published an in-depth report on the issue.

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Simon is a public health attorney who has long been raising concerns about the food industry’s influence on nutrition. Her report highlights the (very) cozy relationship between the Academy and food companies. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accepts funding from many of the companies whose products it should, in any sane world, recommend against. Here’s a list of some of their current sponsors. These sponsors also have “[the] right to co-create, co-brand an Academy-themed informational consumer campaign,” meaning that they can create marketing material for consumers that promotes their product and put the AND stamp on it.
  • Many of the approved providers of continuing education to RDs are food companies. Here’s the current list. Note a few of my favorites: the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo Nutrition, General Mills, Kraft Foods, National Pasteurized Eggs, Inc., and so on. According to Simon’s report, AND states that some of the benefits of becoming an accredited CEU provider are: exposure to Academy members, promotion of their continuing education activities, and having their name listed on the AND website.
  • AND’s political action committee (PAC) does not take on issues that would offend its sponsors, even if they have huge implications for public health. For example, AND actively opposed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to put a cap on the size of sugar-sweetened beverages that could be sold to consumers. (Sponsors: Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co.) They also opposed California’s Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO products. (Sponsors: Monsanto, ConAgra Foods.)

How can such an organization claim to represent the best interest of nutrition professionals? Furthermore, how can they claim to make unbiased recommendations to the public about health and nutrition?

While I understand that the scientific community is rife with this kind of thing, I just can’t accept it. What makes it even harder to swallow is that the AND actually goes against their own code of ethics in allowing these partnerships. Under “Responsibilities to the Profession,” the code of ethics states that “The dietetics practitioner is alert to the occurrence of a real or potential conflict of interest and takes appropriate action whenever a conflict arises.” What constitutes appropriate action? There are two options set forth by the academy.

  1. “The dietetics practitioner makes full disclosure of any real or perceived conflict of interest;” or,
  2. “When a conflict of interest cannot be resolved by disclosure, the dietetics practitioner takes such other action as may be necessary to eliminate the conflict, including recusal from an office, position, or practice situation.”

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that the Academy’s disclosure of its “conflicts of interest” with almost every leading junk-food company in America constitutes a resolution of the problem.

Really?

Really?

Thankfully, as of right now, nutrition professionals are not required to be members of the AND in order to be credentialed. I hope against hope that this doesn’t change, and I also cross my fingers that I won’t have to pass up any professional opportunities due to my lack of membership. We’ll see.

In 2011, I was lucky enough to have a group dinner with the esteemed food journalist, gardener, and cook Michael Pollan (Thanks, Dad!). I asked him how we were supposed to fix all of the food problems in this country when the very organization that accredits dietetic education programs is in bed with its own worst enemies. He said something along the lines of, “I think the dietitians are going to rise up. I think that this new wave of nutritionists is going to demand that the [Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics] change its policies and practices. It’s going to be the students – it’s going to be people like you.” I’m happy to report that it has begun. Here’s a start.

The Sad Truth

“We live in a society whose power structure is devoted to greed and exploitation. The most powerful people run machines that embody the conservative critique of government: tyrannical, bureaucratic, corrupt. In the Age of Corporations, people who don’t work for corporations won’t be as powerful as people who do. To put it the other way, people who work to help others are in a sense punished for not working for corporations.”

-In an email from my friend Jeff

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Non-resolutions and local food

2014

Evidently, 2014 is going to be the year of putting my money where my mouth is. Through no real effort of my own, things just seem to be working out that way. For example, I’m moving closer to downtown/my office – close enough that I can really be a full-time bike commuter. More exercise, less time spent in horrible Phoenix traffic, and less money spent on gas… I like it!

Also, I’ve decided – after months of deliberation – to give up on Verizon and switch to Virgin Mobile. I mean, $80+/month for a cell phone? That’s ridiculous. For slightly more than half the price, I’ll get the same data and text package and MORE minutes with Virgin. Sweet.

And finally, I actually signed up for a CSA! I’m all about local food, but I’ve been disappointed with the farmers’ markets around here. Despite the fact that Arizona actually grows tons of produce (who knew?), the markets seem to specialize in baked goods, various relishes, and expensive dog treats. I had a CSA box once before (well, actually, my mom had one which she graciously shared with me). I loved it, but it took me a while to actually get one for myself, by myself. I wanted organic produce, so I shopped around and found Chow Locally. This is the perfect farm box for me! Everything is organic or organically grown, AND – this is the best part – you get to see what’s in your box ahead of time each week and then decide if you want it! This Saturday was my first pickup. Here’s what came in my box:

  • Black Spanish radishes
  • Green onions
  • Winterbor kale
  • Lacinato kale
  • Purple turnips
  • Spicy arugula
  • Grapefruit
  • Rapini
Photo courtesy of Chow Locally

Photo courtesy of Chow Locally

How fun! Since I usually cook on the weekends so I have food for the week, here’s what I’ve made so far.

The grapefruits I’ve just been eating plain, and I have yet to use the green onions and turnips. But, oh! What a happy fridge (and tummy) I have!

What have the first 14 days of 2014 brought your way so far?

What the Table Means

In July, Sweetheart and I were doing our best to stay out of the Arizona heat, so we took a trip to Phoenix’s Heard Museum, a museum of Native American Art and History. They had an exhibit going on called Chocolate, Chili, and Cochineal about foods that originated in the Americas. It was fascinating and also somewhat surprising. My favorite part, though, was this quote on one of the exhibition’s displays:

“We come to the table, cedar smoke clinging to our hearts, to share the joys and sorrows of life, and in doing so we uplift and comfort one another. The table becomes a refuge where we are nourished, restored and connected to our culture. The shadow and light puts us in the midst of nature and the unknown. We remember where we come from, and, like our ancestors before us, the simple act of sharing ritual food sustains us for another day.”
-Anita Fields, 2013

Bon appetit!

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Have 4 free hours? Watch this.

I recently finished watching HBO’s excellent documentary series “The Weight of the Nation.” It pulls together experts in policy, medicine, community organizing, and more to outline the obesity crisis in the United States. It is an incredibly comprehensive, insightful, and entertaining look at obesity rates: how they got that way, what people are doing about it, and where we need to go from here. It’s split into 4 one-hour segments, so it’s easy to watch in pieces. The entire series is available for free on HBO’s website. I’ve included a teaser below. Happy viewing!

One step forward, two steps back

When I wrote about new school lunch standards last month, I mentioned that there was some flexibility for schools in terms of the initially proposed meat and grain maximums. This flexibility was intended to be temporary, for the first school year of implementation. This was meant to allow schools and suppliers time to comply with the new standards. Unfortunately, the USDA announced yesterday that the flexible standards would become permanent. What does this mean? No maximum amounts for meat or grains served in school meals. Huge portions, huge kids. What a disappointing move by the USDA.