Rachel Laudan

Reading and Pondering: IFT17



208 pages long, 8 1/2 by 11 in size, this is the program and exhibit directory for the Institute of Food Technologist’s 2017 meeting from June 25th to 28th in Las Vegas.

I was there for a panel organized by Tamar Haspel on Processed Foods: The Good, The Bad, and The Science.   My purpose here, however, is not to report on that panel.

Rather it’s that the opportunity to be a fly on the wall at the IFT was one more in a series of opportunities I have had since publishing Cuisine and Empire to get a look at parts of the food system that don’t get much examination in public discussions.  You could read everything put out by the “food movement” in the last decade and have not a clue about the world in which food scientists and technologists work except for epithets about Big Ag and Big Food.

I’m not going to editorialize, just give some data about this, the latest of my adventures.

The Institute of Food Technology is a professional organization, actually the professional organization for those working on food science and technology, whether in academia, industry, and government. To give a sense, those named as Fellows this years come from the University of Manitoba, North Carolina States, Jiangnan University, USDA, Michigan State, Kansas State, GWS Food Industry Consulting Services, and Rutgers.  The organization is funded in part by selling exhibit spaces.

20,000 people attended.  Apart from being huge, it seemed to me much more diverse than most meetings I go to (all too often academic): there were lots of students and young people, lots of women, and lots of people from around the world.

1,200 companies had stands in the exhibit hall.  I’m not sure how many countries they came from, but I saw stands from Switzerland, Canada, Japan, China, the Netherlands, Argentina, Great Britain, Belgium, Ireland, France, India, Chile, and Denmark. To give a flavor (ha! sorry), under ‘S’ in the index by category, you could find:  Salt, Salt Replacers (26); Seasonings (too many to count, I’d say 50); Sequestrants (2); Soy Sauce (10), Soy, Soy Products (16); Spices (about 50); Stabilizers (again, I’d guess 50); Starches (about 30); Sweeteners, Nonnutritive (70 or 80); Sweeteners, Nutritive (same).

The Scientific Program ran about 10 parallel sessions morning and afternoon.  Just a few titles: “A Global Overview of Dietary Fiber Regulations;” “History, Characteristics, and Health Benefits of Fermented Foods;” “Research Integrity in Industry-Funded Nutrition Research;” “Educating Future Sensory Professionals;” “Innovations in Spray-Dried, Fortified Diary Products and Emulsions.”

And then there were dozens of professional development sessions, parties, pre-and post-conference events.

Just a couple of days ago on Twitter, John Coupland, the President, was asking for recommendations for a book on the food system.  Well, may he ask, given the failure of public discussion to recognize, let alone engage, what is going on in this world. And by the way, you might enjoy his blog where he does a great job of talking about food science in the current political climate.

Finally thanks to my fellow panelists; to Charlotte Biltekoff , author of the insightful book on the philosophies underlying American dietary recommendations, Eating Right in America, and flavor historian, Nadia Berenstein, two fellow food studies types who ventured in to this territory; and to Kantha Shelke and Brian Rustle for answering my naive questions about the event.

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