When the calendar changed from 2019 to 2020 just four months into my term as IFT president, I shared a message of excitement and anticipation. We were keenly aware of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) climate that many industries, including food and beverage, were facing, yet were filled with optimism and hope for the future. Little did we know what the next few months would bring.
To say it has been a VUCA time to lead this organization is an understatement. We couldn’t have possibly anticipated the immense set of challenges we would face both personally and professionally, and sadly, we still have not reached the end of this altered state of reality. As we continue to navigate the road from crisis to the next normal, I choose to look at the positives—and there are many.
Professional societies like IFT serve an important role in the best of times, and an exponentially greater role in times of uncertainty. We have seen this firsthand in the last few months. Science of food professionals have increasingly sought out educational content to expand their knowledge. They have come together within our online community, IFT Connect, and at virtual fireside chats to discuss the multitude of new challenges they face every day. Through it all, they never lost sight of the critical role they play in ensuring people around the world have food to eat. They also expressed pride in being part of an industry essential to human health and well-being, rightfully so. We have wonderful members who inspire me immensely through their commitment and dedication to our food system.
Perhaps the most significant and notable accomplishment of the past year, and one I am especially proud of, is the transition of our annual event and food expo to a virtual format. I cannot express how difficult this decision was, but deep down the board knew it was the right thing to do. In the four months that followed, hundreds of volunteers from among your professional community and IFT’s extremely dedicated professional staff worked quickly and tirelessly to produce SHIFT20—a virtual conference and expo with more than 100 scientific sessions, more than 500 speakers, and nearly 300 exhibitors. This work was done across multiple time zones, amid various quarantine and shelter-in-place orders, with volunteers and staff grappling with extreme personal and professional stress and distraction. Despite the significant headwinds, the event was an overwhelming success with its easy-to-navigate interface, thought-provoking content, and engaging interactive sessions. I can’t wait to see how we build on the foundation established to further evolve our event offering in the year to come.
There were certainly other successes. We completed a comprehensive review of all IFT programs that will inform the strategic planning refresh we will be continuing in the next fiscal year. We increased our advocacy efforts, releasing a white paper examining public and private funding trends, as well as the economic contribution of food, and highlighting disproportionate funding for food research relative to its contribution to the U.S. economy. We also supported efforts of Feeding Tomorrow, the foundation of IFT, including the successful transition of its biggest annual fundraiser—the Fun Run + Fitness event—to a virtual format.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize some painful and uncomfortable truths that have also come to the forefront this year. Much like our society at large, our profession and our food system have systemic and intolerable inequities that must be dismantled with intention and purpose. As an organization striving for inclusivity and committed to embracing our community’s diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and thought, we will not stand for any form of discrimination or injustice. The IFT leaders you’ve elected are committed to this work. We have launched a series of workshops to give our members the opportunity to share and learn about important topics aligned with our diversity, equity, and inclusion commitment, and will continue our work to ensure our members feel welcome and safe.
They say strength comes from struggle. I have no doubt IFT will emerge stronger than ever from this crisis, especially under the leadership of CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean and our dedicated Board of Directors. It has been my distinct honor to serve as president of this great association throughout the past year, and I look forward to
working with incoming IFT President Noel Anderson, PhD, CFS, as we seize the opportunities ahead to make IFT a better, stronger, more inclusive professional association in the year to come.