Reflections on the 2019 Annual Conference and Post-Conference Tour to Cuba | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

Reflections on the 2019 Annual Conference and Post-Conference Tour to Cuba

Posted by: on Thursday October 10, 2019 farm in Cuba

As I begin my term as president of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, I am buoyed by the vitality, enthusiasm, and passion that I observed in all who attended the Annual Conference in Orlando: Nutrition Education − Rooted in Food. With 670 attendees, the sessions were energetic and followed by rich discussion. It was wonderful to see everyone and to welcome so many new members and first-time attendees. I hope to see you all again next year in San Diego!

In session after session, your comments and questions reflected SNEB member interest in digging deep into the complex and challenging issues associated with our profession and to the public’s ability to eat well. To me, your engagement spoke not only of an interest in the art and science of increasing knowledge, skills, and motivation needed to make healthful food choices but also of a commitment to confront structural injustices, inequities, and systemic obstacles that make such practices difficult if not impossible in today’s world. Our readiness to have a greater impact at all levels of the familiar socio-ecological model — from people to policy — was bubbling over!

Our recognition of two 50th anniversaries was highly successful. We celebrated the 50th year of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program − the cornerstone program for community-based, participant-informed nutrition education. We also recognized the 50th anniversary of the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, an event with close ties to our Society. Dr. Jean Mayer, president of the then-Society for Nutrition Education from 1974 to 1975, chaired the White House Conference. George Briggs – the Briggs Symposium’s namesake and the Society’s founding president (1968-69) – co- chaired the Panel on Nutrition Teaching in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Crucial food security policies and programs grew out of the conference that changed the national conversation about – and established programs to address – hunger, nutrition, and health.

Jennifer Wilkins, PhD, RD
Jennifer Wilkins, PhD, RD

The conference hosted several engaging Division and Committee meetings that helped set ambitious plans for the coming year. Our oral abstracts and poster presentations represented cutting edge and innovative program, research and evaluation projects led by our members. We recommitted to established partnerships with key governmental agencies, and domestic and international organizations. Two new resolutions were discussed at the Advisory Committee on Public Policy meeting and were voted on in September.

Finally, when I learned that “my” conference would be in Orlando, Cuba’s proximity quickly came to mind. Thanks to SNEB member Karla Shelnutt, we partnered with Thor Explorations to organize the Society’s first ever international post-conference tour to Cuba. The tour was organized to provide exposure to Cuba’s food, agriculture and health care systems. A total of 26 SNEB members plus three guests participated. We visited famous landmarks, two spectacular ecological farms, the tobacco growing Pinar del Rio region to the west of Havana, and took in old Havana’s food, architecture, art, and music. The tour even included a cooking demonstration and a salsa dance lesson. We all learned much about Cuba’s history and the significant role the United States has played.

One of the highlights was a trip to a major Havana supermarket. To those of us used to the typical “hyper-choice” retail food environment, the Cuban market offered a stark contrast. Food choices were limited by our standards; many shelves were empty or were filled with a single product brand. Food availability on any given day depended very much on what shipment had come in. As SNEB executive director Rachel Daeger said, “I will never think of a supermarket in the same way again!”

The trip was a huge success and there is interest in continuing post-conference educational tours in the future. The conference in Orlando and the post-conference Cuba trip have energized me to serve SNEB to the fullest! I look forward to connecting with you in the coming months.