My professional society is the Institute of Food Technologists, IFT. IFT is a big organization involving most everyone involved in the technical side of the food industry. Within the organization there are divisions where you can work on more specialized topics – I am a member of the Education division and involved to a greater degree in the Chemistry division. Divisions organize all sorts of activities – newsletters, student paper competitions, symposia, social events with most of the activity centered around the annual meeting.
Over the past year or so I have worked with about 25 others on an IFT taskforce charged with thinking out a better way for divisions to function. “Working” means about 4 two-day meetings in Chicago, half a dozen conference calls and webinars and a small amount of editing. I’m lucky as a faculty member that I get to decide that this work is important and worth pursuing even at the expense of time spent on my own programs. I think it’s important for food chemistry to thrive as an applied science that we have a place where we can get together, define and develop our subject and explain to our industry stakeholders why our work matters.
Anyway the taskforce met and talked and met and talked and met some more. We looked at what peer institutions do, we asked members what they want, we stayed in bland corporate hotels, we drank iced water and we talked and we argued. We seriously thought about what it means (to pay) to belong to a professional organization in an age when people can spontaneously organize and create content online (for free).
Now our proposals will go to the IFT board and they will consider them just before the annual meeting. (I get to go and make a presentation!). It’s not appropriate to get out in front of the board and comment on the details of our proposals here but I feel positive about the work we’ve done and I think our recommendations will be good for the organization. Let’s see how it goes.
“Everything is made from atoms. That is the key hypothesis. The most important hypothesis in all of biology, for example, is that everything that animals do, atoms do. In other words, there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics”
(The Feynman lectures in physics, vol 1, 1963, pp 1-8)
Richard Feynman’s hypothesis is the core of our goal as food chemists. We seek to relate the properties of foods to the atoms they contain. A common trick we will use to attack problems in food chemistry is to divide our food up into hierarchies of structure and focus only on the ones most relevant to our problem. In this course, we will assume that the atomic scale is far less important to most of our physical problems than the molecular scale; in effect, we can treat molecules as the building blocks of our food and reframe Feynman’s hypothesis as:
Everything that food does, molecules do.
For simple questions is fairly straightforward (e.g., “this ice cream tastes as it does because of the vanillin molecules present”) while others are so complex, we struggle to even frame them in terms of chemistry. (e.g., “Why does this sauce tastes creamier than that one?”). However, if we can properly understand how the atoms are behaving; we should be able to explain any behavior of food.