Similar to food, people are diverse. The people I met at the Institute of Food Technologists were from all around the globe including the United States, the beautiful coast of Jamaica, and “Africa’s Most Beautiful City” in Eritrea. However, as I shook hands and looked into others eyes, I did not see physical similarities although we all had different skin complexions, hair textures, verbal accents, and cultural backgrounds. Yet, there was a definite similarity we did have in common–our passion for food.
Mine had just started baking as a child a few years ago.
As I attach my white IFT lanyard around my neck and snap it onto my name tag that says in bold print, “Briana Sharp, Columbus, OH”, I was ready to encounter this new experience that was just up the ascending escalator. I shadowed my mom, Allyson Sharp, the Senior Manager at Coalescence, along with the CEO, Angela Cauley, and Samantha Ward, a new Food Technologist who was also having her first experience at IFT. As a rising senior, they thought I should gain insight on what the food industry genuinely was, and if it was a major I would want to pursue as a career in the future. Not only was this my first business conference, it was also my first time getting a feel for the food industry outside the walls of Coalescence.
A large clump of people formed in front of the escalators in the large corridor at the entrance to the exhibit. Anticipation filled the air as we all waited what seemed like an eternity, but the liveliness of the people who surrounded me was infectious. Finally, the officials allowed us to step onto the main floor into what felt like another world full of colorful hanging posters, displays, and booths with various company names in numerous fonts and sizes. Several smells that rejuvenated my sinuses differed from flavored popcorn to curry to soy-sauce chocolate truffles, and the sounds of business interactions, old friends catching up, and the overwhelming talk of food was all around me. Seas of booths were set in rows like maize in a cornfield, but I could be reassured by the experts around me. I followed Ms. Angela, my mom, and Samantha with a list of needed ingredients and future products in hand, knowing full-well they were pro’s when it came to networking and getting the job done despite all of the commotion.
Moving from booth to booth, I received first-hand experience in countless aspects involved in business by watching these three wonderful businesswomen work their magic.
1. Introduce yourself with your name and title.
2. Shake hands firmly, and look people in the eyes.
3. Smile and be engaged, as well as engaging.
I am a people person; therefore networking seemed to be the easiest part of this whole experience. Obviously I didn’t have much to say or do, but I did know that first impressions were everything. I also knew the way you carried yourself often reflected back on the company you work for. This included dressing appropriately and talking with appropriate language and tone. Through making a good first impression and carrying oneself in a professional manner, business connections would come faster and stronger.
A food scientist never just eats their food. While they are chewing, they analyze what flavors they recognize, what they like, what they do not like, the texture, the viscosity, and other factors their taste buds can detect. The cuisine at IFT was unbelievable. While some of the items on the menu were fairly traditional in culture, a lot of items that crossed cultures were the soy-sauce truffles and African-inspired potato chips. Some foods were concoctions one would never think to try. For example, a Tabasco, pineapple ice cream was suggested to me. I tried it and my taste buds felt as though they were being toyed with because of the back in forth of the sweet and spicy. Overall, the cuisine at IFT was diverse as well as delicious!
Although I am not part of the Food Industry yet and my role at the conference was not major, the people who I did meet were significant. When I told them I was a rising high school senior, each one of them shared their pearls of wisdom about food science and life. It was often reiterated to me that people always have to eat, therefore there will always be jobs in the food industry. They also said how much they love their job, the main reason being because everything revolves around food which means many occupations in Food Science. The fact that that food industry has so many opportunities really appealed to me since I have been undecided on what I want to do with my love of science. The best advice I received was, “Find something that you love to do, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
As we departed from McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, I realize that my experience at IFT was definitely one to remember. It was incredible that one conference can integrate people who come from all over the world to share in this common world of food. The best and most amazing part is how food really brings people together!
By: Briana Sharp
High School Senior