To paraphrase Warren Buffett, if you’re sitting in the shade today, chances are that someone had the foresight to plant a tree a long time ago. Right now, we are fortunate to be sitting in the shade because of great minds who planted the seeds of innovation—which ultimately grew into large trees with several branches of knowledge.

Every truly great idea was preceded by someone who planted the seeds of innovation so that we could grow and expand our knowledge. Louis Pasteur may never have developed the pasteurization process had someone not first planted seeds of innovation: in this case, Nicholas Appert. The man for whom IFT’s most prestigious award is named, Appert pioneered the idea of sterilizing food in glass jars to prevent spoilage. His discovery led to a host of food safety and preservation innovations, many of which are still in use today. Those early innovators—Appert and Pasteur—and the many food scientists and microbiologists who followed them, whose names are obviously too numerous to mention, have built the foundation that we rely upon.

Despite these and many other noteworthy achievements that have occurred in food science and technology, much remains to be done. There are still parts of the world where food is either scarce, deficient in nutrients, or the cause of diarrheal foodborne illnesses. In addition, the amount of freshwater on the earth is being depleted at an alarming rate. Both demand and pollution are significantly altering the availability of this resource—to the point where adjustments in the way we grow and process food will certainly be necessary.

And in the United States today, we are grappling with an obesity epidemic that affects more than two-thirds of the population. As food scientists and technologists, we have the opportunity and responsibility to develop truly innovative products that not only taste good, but also promote health and wellness in children and adults. But we also need to ensure families will consume new, healthier products, and that appropriate metrics are set so that public health goals foster behavior change in consumers.

In the United States, this will be critical as the new Dietary Guidelines generate a greater dialogue on the role of food science in developing solutions to these issues. The best ideas to counter food scarcity, poor nutrition, and childhood obesity may, or may not, occur to us, who are already working in the field, but it is clear that these issues, as well as others, have international consequences and need to be addressed by food professionals in academia, industry, and regulatory agencies around the globe.

Quite frankly, the upcoming generations are tech-savvy individuals who perhaps could develop food-science solutions that far exceed the novel ideas of today. Nevertheless, as stewards, mentors, and teachers of food science, we have a vital role to play in ensuring that science-based solutions to food-related issues continue to emerge and shape our future.

As a food science professor, I often wonder whether the next great food-science innovation is hidden in the mind of one or more of my students or the many bright food science students attending colleges and universities throughout the world. Think back to earlier in your own life. There was someone, perhaps a parent, a counselor, a professor, a supervisor, or a more experienced colleague, who took an interest in you and your career. They gave you good advice. They mentored you along the way. They provided perspectives that assisted you in becoming the food scientist and person that you are today.

Now, each of you has the opportunity to pay it forward; to share your knowledge, skills, expertise, and wisdom; to recognize great potential in students and young colleagues, and nurture it. Shouldn’t all of us have that responsibility as representatives and stewards of the food science profession? There is a saying that was shared with me by a colleague and friend, and it’s very appropriate in this situation. People care more about what you know, when they know that you care!

Let’s show our students and young professionals that we care, and help focus them on a path toward innovation. Your membership and volunteerism ensure the strength and impact of this organization. Our expertise makes us a formidable authority in food science and technology, and as our knowledge continues to grow, we will create a whole forest of ideas. I encourage you to become more active in IFT workgroups that address issues of importance to you, and to mentor the food science leaders of tomorrow.

by Robert B. Gravani,
IFT President, 2010–11 
Professor of Food Science,
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 
[email protected]