The Institute of Food Technologists’ new documentary showcases how technology supports hunger prevention.
Suspicion, confusion, protest, crisis: Many associations don’t have to deal with volatile public opinion to the degree that the Institute of Food Technologists does. But two complex, hot-button issues—genetically modified food and the struggle to safely and sustainably feed the world—lie at the heart of IFT members’ jobs. So education and messaging are front-burner priorities for the organization.
“There are so many misconceptions about why science has to be involved in the food we eat,” says IFT CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean, FASAE, CAE, whose recent role in helping to mitigate the nationwide outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce is itself an answer to that. So is the fact that, unless innovations in food science are supported, many in a global population projected to top 9 billion by 2050 will starve.
With both that urgency and IFT’s 75th anniversary in 2013 spurring it on, the board of directors “took a great risk,” says Tarantino-Dean, and commissioned Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy to produce a documentary film about the important intersection of science and food in feeding the growing population.
Except that’s not exactly what IFT got. Not wanting to “do a commercial for a special interest,” Tarantino-Dean says, Kennedy spent two years researching and interviewing farmers, scientists, and citizens around the world and particularly in Africa, “trying to understand what was really going on in the space and the human side of the story as well.” In the final film, Food Evolution, “GMOs became emblematic of the public’s greater distrust of science, and that became the story.”
That story propelled Food Evolution to a 2016 debut at the DOC NYC Film Festival, theatrical release in major markets around the country, and availability through popular streaming services and platforms. Foreign distribution is ongoing, as is licensing interest from farm bureaus, trade groups, universities, and government institutions.
Food Evolution, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, also earned IFT a 2018 Power of A Summit Award from ASAE.
“It’s continuing to create conversations,” says Tarantino-Dean, stressing that this was the primary goal for the film from the beginning. “Other parts of the world don’t have the variety of climates and availability of water [that America does], which makes their ability to grow food very difficult.” As science works to overcome these challenges, the need for an evolution in how people talk about it is more important than ever.