Walking through the various booths and seeing names of ingredients I found hard to pronounce, I was struck by numerous lightbulb moments, learning (among other things!) that not all flavor occurs naturally and seeing people from all walks of life and all parts of the science of food community learning, networking, and laughing together.
You see, I come from a very different background than most of you. Over the last 10 years, I worked at the national office of the YMCA, where I developed leadership trainings as well as a diversity and inclusion strategy for staff at all levels, enabling them to learn, develop, and positively impact their communities. It was quite a different experience from the important work that you all do—providing each and every person on the planet with a safe, nutritious, and sustainable food supply. So when I arrived at IFT18 and walked the bustling halls of McCormick Place, it was easy to feel a bit out of place. Essentially, I was an outsider.
Walking into a space where you don’t know anyone and are unfamiliar with the field and industry can feel very scary and isolating. It was outside of my comfort zone—I had to go up to people I didn’t know, who had backgrounds different from mine—and try to find a way to fit in. It felt a lot like a family reunion where I was the newest member...only it was a family of 23,000 people.
What I found when I walked into that large convention hall at McCormick Place affirmed the decision I made earlier that week to accept the position of Director, Diversity and Inclusion at IFT.
The people I met at IFT18 all stepped up and made intentional efforts to make me feel at home there. I was greeted by booth vendors who were happy to answer my many questions and friendly faces who were open to engaging me in conversation. They welcomed me into the IFT family without even knowing me.
The feeling of Community—one of IFT’s core values—came to life for me in my time at IFT18, and it continues to grow as I take on this new role.
In my new role, I aim to strengthen how IFT’s core values show up in everything we do, and to bring to life our newest promise—“Include”—to help further build an environment where all the members of our profession feel valued, recognized and connected to the IFT community. However, building community isn’t the job of one, but a collective effort of everyone. We’ll need everyone in the science of food to come together and welcome people into our family, just as I was welcomed at IFT18.
Over the next few months, I will be collaborating with people across the IFT community to communicate the importance of creating a more diverse and inclusive organization where everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive in their careers. As I continue to develop the strategy for this chart of work, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions, so please feel free to reach out to me so I can get to know you and make sure that I capture the voice of the IFT community in advancing the science of food through diversity and inclusion.
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A conversation with IFT's senior food safety and traceability scientist Sara Bratager