Michele Perchonok

Michele Perchonok

Last month in New Orleans, IFT welcomed thousands of guests to IFT19. Together we spent several days building professional networks, sharing and learning about advancements in the science of food, and connecting to the power of our food innovation community. It was an extraordinary week.

Although I’ve been going to IFT annual events throughout my entire career, this was the most spectacular. That is, very likely, because of the unique lens through which I was viewing the event. Being president of IFT has many serious responsibilities but also comes with many specific privileges. Presiding over the IFT annual event is one of them, but perhaps not for the reasons one might think.

The real privilege of serving as IFT president and presiding over the annual event is the hundreds of people you get to meet. From students to emeritus professors, to our new Fellows and Achievement Award winners, to new professionals and people at the zenith of their careers, I was able to connect with attendees from all corners of the globe and with the many professional backgrounds that make up the science of food. I was able to see the power of IFT come to life in the stories I heard, the innovations on display, the speakers and student competitors, and the posters and featured sessions. It was energizing and inspiring and if you weren’t there, I wish you had been.

One of the things I find most inspiring at the IFT annual event is the friendly competitiveness that exists between the food scientists of the future—our IFT Student Association members—who engage in fun and serious competitions on-site. Congratulations to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for winning the College Bowl Competition. Congratulations also to teams from Michigan State, Lund University (Sweden), and Rutgers University for taking home first-place trophies in the various product development competitions. Our students make it clear that the best and brightest young people are indeed choosing a career path in food and are dedicated to the IFT mission.

IFT19 was also the place to see some of the most innovative new ideas emerging from food science entrepreneurs. I was on the edge of my seat as I watched five impressive entrepreneurs compete to be named the IFTNEXT Future Food Disruptor of the Year™. Following a rigorous, three-part process that began with nearly 75 companies in November, each finalist pitched their startups to a diverse panel of expert judges in just four minutes. En Solución, creator of an innovative, environmentally friendly postharvest wash solution, won the $25,000 prize, while Heliponix, developer of an in-home hydroponic growing device called GroPod, was chosen by audience vote as the recipient of the competition’s $5,000 People’s Choice Award.

Especially meaningful to me was the opportunity to introduce Dr. Temple Grandin to the IFT19 audience. Dr. Grandin delivered a powerful message of inclusion and the importance of different types of specialized thinking in our work and educational spaces. I was excited to have the opportunity to meet with her backstage, and to get her perspective, as a visual thinker, on so many topics. It was an important reminder that IFT’s work to enable diversity, inclusion, and equity remains an essential part of IFT’s mission.

Beyond the sessions and networking events at IFT19 was the impressive and awe-inspiring food expo. IFT annual events are particularly special because they allow for professional development and scientific knowledge transfer to happen alongside business opportunity and commercial activity. The IFT19 food expo was teeming with buyers, sellers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Fortune 500 companies exhibited their products alongside startups in the IFTNEXT Startup Alley, and exhibitors from 46 countries displayed their latest products.

One additional privilege of being IFT president is the chance to see so many people hard at work to make the event a success. Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers from across our community who came together to create an experience that was engaging, thought-provoking and fun. My sincere thanks, again, to the Annual Meeting Scientific Program Advisory Panel (AMSPAP) for ensuring the IFT19 scientific programming was of the highest quality, utilized diverse formats, and focused on emerging science and research. Thanks also to our incredible IFT staff who work behind the scenes to create an amazing IFT19 experience for so many.

There are many more highlights than I can possibly list here, so instead I’ll just leave you with a piece of advice. Don’t miss out on IFT20 in Chicago next July. I encourage you to feed your future by joining us. Mark your calendars today for July 12–15, 2020, in Chicago. I’ll see you there.

About the Author

Michele Perchonok, PhD, CFS
IFT President, 2018–2019
[email protected]
Michele Perchonok