I was very excited when asked to join some fellow Heartlanders and attend the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference (SNA-LAC). LAC is an annual event held in Washington, DC and took place this year March 1-4, 2015. As this would be my inaugural LAC, I welcomed the opportunity to experience this event first-hand.
LAC 2015 was attended by close to 850 industry members and patrons. A big focus of this year’s conference was the School Nutrition Association (SNA) 2015 Position Paper (Reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act).
Sunday, March 1 – Upon arriving in Washington, we headed straight to the JW Marriott, host to LAC. After registration, I attended a meeting for the Northeast Region to discuss their plans for the week, which included their trip on Tuesday to Capitol Hill. This afforded me the opportunity to say “Hi” to Judy White from Wrentham, MA, who then introduced me to Mark Bordeau and Todd Fowler. They are all longtime customers, and were a part of the 40 representatives from the state of New York. It was very nice to put faces to some names I had heard for so many years!
My next session was for LAC First Timers – I certainly fit this bill (and I wasn’t the only one – the room was packed!). This was an informational session letting all of us “first timers” know what to expect during the upcoming few days, and how we can assist as advocates for the federal child nutrition programs. After that was the Industry Exchange meeting, “Exploring the Challenges of Procurement and Identifying Best Practices”. The many challenges that accompany Bid processing were discussed during this session.
Once lunch concluded, keynote speaker Dr. Larry Sabato, took the stage to kick off LAC. Dr. Sabato is a University Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia. He is widely regarded for his “Crystal Ball” electoral analysis. During his speech, he reviewed the 2014 mid-term elections, a forecast of the 2016 elections, and an overview of what to expect with the 114th US Congress. Dr. Sabato also spoke about his latest book that has been published, “The Kennedy Half Century – The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy”, which explores the powerful influence this event has had over the last 50 years. I reached out to Dr. Sabato after the conference, to get his take on the LAC, and he provided the following commentary:
I thoroughly enjoyed the event. This was a politically astute group. The members already knew a great deal about the subject, and understood how to approach members of Congress. If any organization can manage to get legislation through this particular Congress, I would place a bet on the School Nutrition Association.
The sessions I attended on Monday, were just as informative. Topics included the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, CN Labeling, Child and Adult Care Feeding Program menu requirements, and USDA Foods and Professional Standards. Unfortunately, I later learned that our meeting with the office of NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was not scheduled until the afternoon of March 3rd. This meant I was unable to “Charge to the Hill” to show support of our friends at SNA due to travel conflicts. After the meeting, I received the following email from Mark Bordeau:
All the visits to the hill were very productive. Senator Gillibrand’s aide Eric spent almost an hour with us and the conversation was very engaging. We did not agree on everything but he was extremely knowledgeable and never dismissed what we had to say. The Legislative Action Conference is always one of my favorite conferences. It is a great way to make a difference in our programs. Plus it is such a great place to network. I would recommend that all School food service directors go at least once in the career.
All in all, this was a truly wonderful experience for me as a Product Manager for Nutrient Analysis and Menu Planning software. It was so exciting to be a part of the passion that our friends in Food Service have for the kids they serve! If you’re ever asked to be a part of the Legislative Action Conference, do yourself a favor and jump at the chance! You won’t be sorry you did.