People are often surprised to find out I’m from Texas—long ago I dropped the Southern drawl and replaced the y’alls and fixin to’s with versions more acceptable up North. So for many, it’s a game to try to get me to drop one of these sayings unknowingly. It takes a lot; a stiff margarita or two often does the trick—hey, I might not talk like a Texan, but I still have it in me. The y’alls will also fly if I get really worked up about something, which doesn’t happen often, though people love to give that a go.
After the latest round of “get Becky to say y’all,” which happened coincidentally enough in San Antonio at The Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids conference, I thought about how it takes a lot to get this industry worked up. The summit brings together those leaders in child nutrition, and not surprisingly, one of the big topics was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s sodium reductions. During the first day of the conference, a representative from the USDA spoke, and she was asked several pointed questions from school directors about the feasibility of these rules. The directors were polite but made it clear that they were, for the most part, not in favor of these stringent rules. The next day during another presentation, one person made a joke about giving the USDA representative a hard time and thanked her for showing up that day.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It seems like every year at the School Nutrition Association’s LAC conference when the floor is opened for questions for USDA staff, the first opportunity sees a lot of complaints and negative comments. The second is an about-face, with people saying how much the USDA has done for them. It’s almost as if the directors need to air their grievances and then they move on. They just want to be heard.
I like to think of it as therapy—an opportunity to talk it out, even if there isn’t any change in the foreseeable future.
School directors aren’t the only ones facing challenges. At this year’s National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, held last month in Chicago, Food Management played host to the presidents, president-elects and heads of seven associations (NACUFS, AHF, SNA, SHFM, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ANFP and ACFSA) to share ideas, struggles and success stories. Eighteen industry leaders from all areas of foodservice—from K-12 schools to dietitians and corrections—joined me in a three-hour networking roundtable.
What struck me the most was just how much change each of the associations has undergone in the past few years. SHFM put the “H” in its name in 2013, recognizing the expanding role its members have to include other hospitality aspects outside foodservice.
Several other associations have either recently or are in the process of changing their strategic plans or governance structure. NACUFS even faced the very real possibility of either having to move its conference from Indianapolis following the original passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or face the backlash of state travel bans for members. It all worked out, but NACUFS had many tough conversations surrounding the ordeal.
And several healthcare operators at the NRA Show shared stories of extreme struggles following consequences from the Affordable Care Act.
To a person, however, they wanted to share their struggles, have someone listen and when asked, “what are you going to do about it,” answered without blinking something to the effect of, “put my head down and do my job to the best of my ability.”
No industry is perfect, especially one in foodservice where passions and government regulations run rampant. But it’s refreshing to hear that even through the struggles, optimism and doing what’s right for customers is still top of mind.