Meetings & Your Brain

Tahira Endean’s Quest to Transform Convention Center Food

Good food can help attendees have a better, more brain-friendly experience at meetings.

Photo by Corin Hirsch

Few things can make Tahira Endean’s heart sink as quickly as a breakfast of Danishes inside a meeting venue. “That doesn’t really get us started well in the day,” she says.

During Endean’s 20-year career in event planning and design (profiled in Convene this month), she became passionate about the power of well-designed events to excite and inspire — as well as the role that food can play in that process. So for the last three years, she’s spoken often on the subject, sometimes alongside organizational psychologist Andrea Sullivan.

Tahira Endean

“I have always loved great food, but healthy and brain-friendly foods have been a focus for me since around 2010,” says Endean, CMP, BHM, who became manager for event marketing at Vancouver’s Quickmobile this spring. “I’m a big proponent of brain feedback, and I think the way we feed people at meetings is mostly lacking, though some convention centers and hotels are ahead of the curve.”

For Endean — the daughter of a commercial fisherman — it’s puzzling that food and beverage suffer when it comes to meetings and conventions. Conscientious planners “who spend a lot of time of thinking about menus, about what would be easy to serve versus what would make participants feel good,” should keep fighting the good fight, she suggests. “We need to create conversation and get people exited about what we do. For me, food is the first- or second-most important thing as a budget item.”

How does Endean approach meals as a meeting planner? She encourages the use of local foods as well as food-and beverage pairing, which builds interest and engagement around meals. She also helps design menus of light, protein-rich foods, “as well as options far from the pastry breakfast and pasta lunch model. People cannot function at their best with this type of diet when they are meant to be fully engaged for 14-plus hour days. Protein, veggies, fruit and whole grains allow them a better experience, and that is my key driver.”

Those light proteins — such as chicken and fish — are not only easier to digest (staving off a mid-afternoon crash) but also spur the production of l-tyrosine, an amino acid that promotes the neurotransmitters key to learning. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the science of “brain food.” To learn more about Endean’s work, check out a webinar she recently took part in on — “A Three-Pronged Approach to Healthier F&B”— or check out the food-related posts on her blog,

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.