Rachel Laudan

Food Processing This Week

I’m just off to the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists in Las Vegas.  If you have any interest in food, this is an organization worth knowing about.  Its members from over 90 countries, from industry, universities, and government, are the people who are doing the research and development on food.

It will, I think, be the biggest conference I have ever attended with 20,000 expected.  I am particularly keen to prowl at least some of the 1200 exhibits to see what is going on.

The panel that I’m on is an overview of food processing, its pluses and minuses. It promises to be quite substantive. It’s chaired by Tamar Haspel, who, among her many other skills writes a monthly column Unearthed for the Washington Post. If you don’t follow it, I highly recommend it as each column is a very thoughtful take on food issues, particularly agricultural issues, in the United States.  I’m looking forward to meeting her and my three fellow panelists: Yoni Freedhof a doctor who is tackling obesity issues in many different ways;  Chris Mallett who leads Cargill’s R & D effort, and Richard Black. VP of Global R&D in Nutrition with PepsiCo.  Both the latter have moved back and forth between academia and business.

In thinking about the panel, I’ve found In Defense of Processed Food by Robert Shewfelt very useful.In it, Shewfelt, professor Emeritus of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Georgia, takes on many of the critiques of processed food, ranging from obesity though addiction, chemicals, safety, nutrition, and sustainability.

And then there’s a showing of the movie Food Evolution that was underwritten by the IFT.  I feel a personal interest in this because I first talked with the film makers Scott Hamilton Kennedy and Trace Sheehan about the project almost three years ago in August 2014.  As I have followed the project to completion, I know how seriously they have taken the project and how they have guarded their independence throughout.

Food Evolution had a great review in the New York Times a couple of days ago.  Indeed, I feel embarrassed for Michael Pollan and others who have signed a letter of protest saying that this is propaganda. I disagree. This film falls squarely within the field of civil discussion of an important issue. Those who don’t like it should respond rather than dismiss.

So Vegas here I come: some friends to catch up with, a panel to participate in, exhibits to examine, new people to meet, a film to view, and, please, a relaxing swim in the hotel pool.


And no. I have not forgotten about appropriation and the food of others.  I have been pursuing ownership, power and memory, and those blogs will be appearing as soon as I feel I have mastered both the issues and the tone.

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