When we started planning this year’s IFT Annual Event and Food Expo, we had no idea how much the theme—SHIFT20—would resonate on a personal, professional, and industry level. Yet here we are. Many of us are into our fourth month of living the shelter-in-place life. While we are seeing signs of rebound and reopening, most of us are still not traveling like before, and large meetings are out of the question. Those who continue reporting to the office or lab are dealing with increased sanitation measures, the use of protective face coverings, daily health screenings, and more. Our academic and student members have completed the spring semester now and wonder what is ahead for the fall. A quick trip to the grocery store requires a face mask while birthday parties are celebrated with drive-by parades or virtual gatherings. Life has shifted in an unforgettable way.
While there have certainly been many challenges, there have also been bright spots. We have been reminded of the significance of the work we do every day as essential workers in a critical infrastructure industry. We have heard from many who said they have seized the opportunity to practice healthier habits and connect more with family and friends. Perhaps most notably, we have had the chance to reflect on what is most important in our lives. IFT is one of those important things, a place where we can all leave our corner of the world behind as we converge and connect with each other to grow, learn, and gain a new perspective.
I have to admit—the decision to transition the annual event to a virtual setting was an extremely difficult decision for me, as it was for many of my fellow board members. We had the utmost concern for the health and well-being of our attendees, exhibitors, and staff, particularly considering the uncertainty of the situation, but I was incredibly disappointed. I have attended at least 15 IFT Annual Events over the years. I enjoy splitting my time between the expo hall and scientific sessions and taking in some of the ticketed events. I love meeting up with friends from prior jobs and spending time with current colleagues and clients. I always came away with several new contacts as well. Like many of you, I couldn’t fathom not being in the same building as all of you in July, but I know it was the right decision.
As the SHIFT20 Virtual Event and Expo draws near, I am growing more excited by two key aspects, the content itself and the accessibility we all will have to that content. Without leaving our homes or offices, we will hear a thought-provoking keynote from April Rinne, member of the World Economic Forum, speaker, writer, and authority on the new economy, future of work, and global citizenship.
We will explore five critical topics—health and nutrition, food safety and security, sustainability, science and technology, and innovation—to solve some of the world’s biggest food issues through a combination of expert panel discussions and scientific sessions. These discussions will help us uncover answers to a significant question that has the power to shape the future of our profession—could the food supply that sustains us also be the biggest threat to our survival?
Perhaps most exciting is the inclusive nature of SHIFT20. There will be live content, networking opportunities, and social events throughout the three days. There will be a product development hackathon informed by the work of Eve Turow-Paul, the author of A Taste of Generation Yum and the go-to expert on the high-value realm of millennials and food. There will also be time built into the schedule to “walk” the virtual expo floor and see the latest innovations from exhibitors.
The majority of the content will be available 24/7 throughout the event and for the next year, so no matter where in the world people reside, they can join us—no plane ticket, passport, or hotel stay required. Gone are the days of being out on the expo floor and realizing you missed the technical session you were interested in, or not being able to catch a session because you were presenting one yourself. You can binge or sample the information that piques your interest whenever you wish.
I know the technology can be a bit daunting to some—and not everyone loves the idea of a virtual meeting—but I really hope you will join us. The content will be top-notch, and your ability to access this content is greater than ever before. The interactive sessions will be fast-paced and informative, and you will get a chance to see the science of food through a whole new lens. Yes, life continues to shift. Let’s not allow that to stop us from coming together to share, learn, connect, and inspire the future of food.