13 Sep 17 A brilliant SAAFoST Congress 2017!
Some 600+ food and drink industrialists descended on Cape Town last week for what transpired into a memorable three-day event, possibly one of the most impressive of the 22 biennial congresses that SAAFoST (SA Association for Food Science & Technology) has ever hosted.
In fact, this journalist ran out of superlatives as the event rolled out!
Firstly came its staging at the brand new Century City Convention Centre, a magnificent venue that lacked for nothing in terms of facilities, and was of personable and manageable size.
Next, the country’s most important scientists – food scientists – were treated to awesomely delicious fare throughout the day; from arrival breakfast snacks, to tea/coffee breaks, and lunch, all of which were beautifully presented and cleared, in hearty amplitude by a slick flotilla of waitrons.
But we weren’t there for the food – albeit such an important aspect of making it so memorable and the talk of the event – but for the programme content! This sub-committee, within SAAFoST’s Cape Branch organising committee, did an outstanding job in finding talks, papers and presenters to deal with every hot topic facing the industry today, with something for everyone.
The congress was very well supported, too, by an encompassing expo of supplier companies and vendors, mostly in the ingredients and food safety/testing arenas. It was heartening to see the supplier industry giving the association its due, via both sponsorships and expo participation, in this mammoth task of getting the broader food-drinks manufacturing industry together in one place every two years.
Then, too, there were excellent networking opportunities; to meet old friends and new, at some excellent social evenings, including the gala dinner at the nearby Ratanga Junction, and all day around the venue and expo.
One was spoiled for choice in deciding which sessions to attend, but these are four that I particularly enjoyed:
- The opening keynote lecture by Dennis Dimick, National Geographic journalist and co-founder Eyes on Earth: An Educational Collaborative, USA, whose talk, accompanied by astonishing photography, “The human age: Confronting the Anthropocene conundrum”, was a brilliant but profoundly depressing account of humankind’s impact on the planet. Naught for one’s comfort here, and a stark reminder of the vital importance of sustainability and environmental consciousness in every aspect of human life and endeavour. It left me feeling profoundly relieved that I have no descendants to inherit the dreadful mess we have created.
- The Ernest Newbery Memorial Lecture: Given by Michele Perchonok, IFT President-Elect and former Advanced Food System Lead at NASA/Johnson Space Center, USA, and who spoke on “The challenges in developing a food system for a Mars mission”. Challenging indeed! Getting humans to Mars, never mind sustain them with safe, palatable, nutritious and varied food, is going to require leaps of innovation and technology. Oy!
- Harris Steinman of FACTs, allergen expert and SA’s leading warrior on pseudoscience and food fraud, gave an insightful talk on these topics – that, alas, are commonplace within our broader food environment.
- Top food science consultant, Nigel Sunley, was his usual fine value in presenting two provocative talks, one on the obesity conundrum and industry’s role in combating it, and the other on the meaning and impact of the new consumer swear words, ‘ultra-processed foods’.
- Day 1 of congress ended with a very well-attended screening of “Food Evolution – The Movie”, its first showing in Africa. Commissioned and funded by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), it is essentially a gripping documentary on GMOs, the evolution of the hyped narrative of repugnance created by anti-GM and anti-Monsanto activists, in contrast to sane science and GMOs true and valuable role in abetting food production.
In all, SAAFoST Congress 2017 was a superbly organised and managed event, offering delegates bang-for-buck in every department.
Big applause for the Congress Chair, the indomitable Rosie Maguire, and her committee for their commendable organising efforts!