Recently I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 edition of the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago, Illinois. Where food leaders and innovators gather to learn, collaborate and see what the next big thing in food is.

Lessons from the Institute of Food Technologists Food Expo

As I entered the show I was struck by the statement that was boldly displayed above my head;  “Where Science Feeds Innovation” and as I travelled around to all the booths I pondered that tag line. Does science really feed innovation when it comes to food?  Hear me out on this one.

As I think about what is happening in the food world, where old skills are becoming appreciated and relearned that past generations probably took for granted. Dry ageing of meat, canning and preserving, baking bread in a wood-fired oven it seems to me that innovation is part of what got us into this predicament we are in currently. Where the foods skills we need to create food are being sought after and taught to a generation that is hungry for their benefit. As I have heard one food artisan say, “the saddest part of our food culture is we have forgotten how to make things.”

As I toured the show, I saw displays that promoted the newest innovation in food colouring, preserving agents and derivatives that would help packaged products last longer or taste fresher.  Is that not contrary to the whole idea to what is happening in our food culture?  Relearning that local is better, fresher, and more nutritionally dense?  This is helping us know where our food comes from and that buying something from halfway around the world is not necessary the best idea in creating transparency in our food system; all things more and more consumers are seeking to find.

Food Innovation should go back to the beginning

There were many interesting booths to get ideas from and lots of flashy marketing but from what I have learned the most about food; is that the simpler you keep it, the better the end product.   It seems we forget that part of what got us into this mess we are in with food is “innovation”. Convenience has been sought after since the war, grocery stores becoming full of pre-made and processed foods, corporations doing the cooking for so many of us, tools like the microwave have been handed to us.  All the while, our understanding of food and how to make and prepare it has slowly slipped away until now we are faced with some mounting health and environmental issues that require some serious changes to our world.

The innovation we need is to return to a time and set limits on our food. Some things should be set in stone, and surprisingly we seem to be going back to find the answers to our food.  In Europe, it is more common to find bakeries, butcher shops and other artisanal shops lining the streets because they seem to recognize that some of these processes need very little improving.