By: Ilissa Miller, CEO and Founder of iMiller Public Relations (iMPR) 

As I reflect on my recent experience at Data Center World, I can’t help but notice a recurring issue that seems to fly under the radar amidst all the buzz and excitement—the lack of consideration for attendees with dietary restrictions and preferences. In a world where energy powers innovation, it’s disheartening to see a disconnect between the nourishment provided and the needs of those fueling the industry.

The Data Center industry, much like the servers it houses, has an energy problem. But it’s not the kind measured in watts and BTUs; it’s the energy we feed ourselves to power through conferences and conduct business effectively. As someone who’s reached a milestone age and recognized the importance of self-care, I’ve become acutely aware of how vital it is to prioritize nourishing our bodies and minds.

Anyone that turns on Netflix (streamed via the cloud and hosted in data centers worldwide), you will find a number of shows about healthy lifestyles, including: You are What you Eat: a Twin Experiment, What the Health, Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food, and dozens more. The trending data shows the definitive correlation between a healthy food lifestyle, how the brain works, and equally important, these effects on the body.

Other data points illustrate a growing population – both young and old individuals – adapting their diets to better nurture their minds and bodies. In the U.S. alone, nearly 4% of adults are vegan, 5% are pescatarian, 6% are gluten intolerant, and nearly 8% are vegetarian, combining to reach nearly 25% of the U.S. population with some sort of food concern.

So how are conferences today adapting to the challenge of feeding a growing diverse of attendees who are expected to operate on full cylinders from 8am to at least 7pm daily to solve some of the world’s largest challenges?  If Data Center World was the litmus test, not so well.

At Data Center World, I found myself among a diverse crowd—seasoned professionals and health-conscious folks alike. Yet, the catering options failed to cater to this diversity. As a gluten-free, health-conscious individual, I was met with limited choices that left me feeling hungry and overlooked. It’s not just about dietary restrictions; it’s about respect and inclusivity for all attendees. In other words, I was HANGRY.

Before I left the event early, I went to the event organizers to voice my concerns, hoping for some viable insights that would ensure everyone’s needs were met. The young sales gentleman and lovely young receptionist were limited in their understanding of the issue, and their defensiveness of the show’s food without finding the right people to address the concerns were noted. While some attempts were made, they fell short of addressing the broader issue at hand, not just for me, for anyone that has these challenges. It’s not just about offering token fruit salads or acknowledging dietary preferences during registration—it’s about crafting a menu that truly respects and accommodates diverse needs. For example, at other conferences and events when oversights were made, staff went out of their way to accommodate guests.

In an industry facing a workforce challenge, bridging the generational gap is crucial. While some are forced to eat harmful foods at an event, further risking the shortening of their lives because choices were not well suited for the elder crowd, we are also trying to attract younger talent who are focused on healthy lifestyles themselves. By offering balanced and nutritious food options, event organizers can demonstrate their commitment to both inclusivity and the longevity of the industry, while highlighting respect for their attendees that are working to solve huge, complex challenges.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we approach catering at conferences and events. No longer can we afford to dismiss dietary restrictions as mere inconveniences. Instead, we must embrace empathy, understanding, and a willingness to adapt to the changing needs of our attendees.

To event organizers everywhere, I implore you to consider the message you’re sending with your catering choices. Are you nourishing minds and bodies, or are you inadvertently sending a message of disrespect and disregard (and pinching a penny to make a better profit)? If making sure your attendees see value in the program and experience, then remember food is top of that list. Let’s work together to ensure that every attendee leaves your event feeling valued, respected, and energized to tackle the challenges ahead.