Chris Downs headshot

Chris Downs

As we move through the holiday season and into the new year, we are reminded that all around the world, food brings people together. While the traditions vary greatly from home to home and country to country, food plays a central role in nearly every holiday gathering.

Christmas is the holiday my family celebrates in December. While this may immediately conjure images of snow and drinking hot chocolate around an open fire, it’s actually a summer holiday here in Australia. Our Christmas celebrations usually take the form of summer barbeques with friends and family enjoying seafood, salads, and tropical fruits.

"Gathering around the table to eat gives us an opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with those in our midst."

The menu is quite different in other places. In Sweden you will find a smörgåsbord that may include pickled herring, cured salmon, and meatballs. Lechón, or roast suckling pig, is commonly enjoyed in both Puerto Rico and the Philippines, while in Venezuela, you’ll eat hallaca, which is similar to a tamale. In the United States, you’ll often find turkey or ham at a holiday feast, plus any number of other cultural dishes depending on the heritage of those gathered.

Gathering around the table to eat gives us an opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with those in our midst. And just as food brings people together, the science of food brings the food system together. It enables us to process and deliver fruits, vegetables, and crops that farmers work so hard to cultivate and harvest. It captures flavors and spices from around the world and brings safety and shelf stability to products, enabling people far from their homes to access the comfort, flavors, and foods they love in their local area. In the October issue of Food Technology, we learned that consumer demand for nostalgic flavors and comfort foods will continue to trend in the year ahead. You’d be hard-pressed to find a food or flavor that reminds you of your childhood more than the ones on the holiday table. We can thank our fellow science of food professionals for making these options available.

In the past few years, an increasing interest in global flavors has also created product development opportunities in everything from breakfast foods and snacks to ready-to-eat meal kits and frozen foods. The ability to access the ingredients and flavors needed to create healthy, culturally significant dishes in places far from where they originated is something people the world over will benefit from and appreciate in the years ahead. Again, it’s the science of food that makes this possible.

The science of food also leverages the power of technology to process, package, transport, store, and deliver food safely to our tables. It enables us to innovate and develop foods that consumers want, not only during the holiday season but throughout the entire year. It brings production to scale to help deliver an affordable, available, accessible, and appetizing food supply.

Despite all of this, there are many people around the world who will not have bountiful holiday meals as they struggle with food and nutrition security. This is a significant challenge the science of food community is actively working with stakeholders across the food system to address. We recognize the importance of both global and local food systems in addressing these needs and commend the people and organizations that work hard to provide food for those who either don’t have enough, don’t have people to share it with, or don’t have a place to gather during the holiday season.

We encourage members of our community to find ways to do what you can to make a difference. Support a food bank, volunteer your time, or make a financial donation to local or global organizations actively working to mitigate food and nutrition insecurity. You can also support the next generation of food scientists with a contribution to the Feeding Tomorrow Fund.

Food not only provides sustenance, it fosters joy, connection, understanding, and meaning. I am proud to be part of this community that collectively puts safe, nutritious, and trusted food on the tables of people around the world. I hope that no matter what, where, and how you celebrate, you are able to relax, recharge, and enjoy special moments and meals with those you hold dear at this most wonderful time of year.

About the Author

Chris Downs, PhD, is IFT President, 2022–2023 ([email protected]).
Chris Downs headshot