The Grow Dozen: 12 Alumni who are making a difference in the food industry
Kevin Bacon BS’84 MS’86, Animal Sciences
Often confused with the famous actor, this Kevin Bacon wouldn’t trade places. “Where else would a guy with the last name of Bacon work but Oscar Mayer,” he jokes. In 22 years with the company, he’s done everything but drive the Wienermobile. Now plant manager, his job is to ensure employee safety, high quality food products and customer service. Recently, he helped develop processes and recipes for Oscar Mayer’s new all-beef hot dogs, released in April.
Juelene Sorensen Beck MS’78, Food Science
Beck knows her way around the food industry. Currently executive vice president of Brooks Food Group—a manufacturer of specialty food items for restaurants—she’s applied her food-science training to leadership positions in such popular names as Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Subway and Sara Lee. She is also a worthy steward of higher education. She has created an internship through the CALS horticulture department in memory of her father, emeritus professor Gail Edwin Beck, and she chairs the college’s Board of Visitors.
Kim and Chris Blanchard BS’93, Horticulture
If you’ve ever wondered what to do with broccoli raab, Chris and Kim Blanchard are the people to talk to. Of course, you’ll have to catch up with them first. The two run the 80-acre Rock Spring Farm in Decorah Iowa, while also dispensing advice on organic farming, cooking and eating through magazine articles, online forums and community outreach. Chris currently serves on the board of directors for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing organic agriculture, and since 2000, he’s coordinated presentations for the annual Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, the largest organic meeting in North America. When Kim isn’t running circles around her farm, she’s doing it around cities—she’s completed two Twin Cities marathons.
Robert Brackett BS’76, Bacteriology; MS’79 PhD’81, Food Science
A former high-ranking official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Brackett is now senior vice president for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a powerful trade association that represents some of the heaviest hitters in the food industry. As the GMA’s chief officer for science and regulatory affairs, Brackett advises food companies on safety issues and runs the GMA’s in-house food safety lab. He focused on the same issues with the FDA, directing the government’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition from 2004 to 2007.
Mark Finke PhD’84, Entomology and Nutritional Sciences
What’s an entomologist doing in a food list? Insects are savored as protein-rich delicacies around the world by humans and animals alike and Finke has been researching their role in animal diets since graduate school. As a sideline to his day job as director of technical services for the national chain PetSmart, Finke has created detailed nutritional analyses of insects used to feed various pets, including reptiles, amphibians, birds and some small mammals. Finke has helped zoos and wildlife rescue organizations plan menus for orphaned and injured insect-eating animals. He’s even designed diets for the bugs to boost their nutritional value when they become food for other animals.
Brian Flood MS’72 PhD’75, Entomology
Flood is in charge of integrated pest management for Del Monte Foods, where he has worked for more than three decades. As part of his task to keep Del Monte’s produce fields free from predators, he’s helped lead a collaborative research effort that has yielded benefits for both industry and farmers. In 2005, the group developed an Internet tool called Insect Migration Risk Forecast, which combines climate and insect migration patterns to help growers know when, and if, pesticide application is necessary on their fields.
Jonathan Frey BS’80, Bacteriology; MS’83 PhD’85, Food Science
Frey has one of the most interesting sounding jobs in the food business. His official title—director of sensory and knowledge discovery at Taco Bell—means that he’s in charge of ensuring that new products satisfy the hordes of consumers looking for a quick Tex-Mex fix. Through data mining—the careful sifting of reams of consumer and product reviews and demographics—Frey can help his company turn a market opportunity into a chalupa.
James Lochner BS’74 MS’76, Animal Sciences
Everyone knows that Tyson Foods is a brand leader for chicken, but the food giant has a thriving beef and pork operation, too—and Lochner is in charge. As senior group vice president for Tyson, he heads Tyson Fresh Meats, where he oversees 41,000 employees at 17 locations. He also manages Tyson’s commodity trading and risk management operations.
Cassandra Miller BS’06, Food Science
Miller is working to improve nutrition for low-income families around the world as part of Sustain, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that connects food industry specialists and technologists with governments and international groups working to improve the quality of food staples. After earning her degree, Miller joined a project in Mexico to fortify corn masa flour and tortillas with iron to help combat iron deficiencies in the region. She’s also involved with the Food Aid Quality Enhancement Project, which seeks to improve the nutritional value of food distributed through government aid programs.
Bill Sperber MS’67 PhD’69, Bacteriology
If you care about food safety—and who wouldn’t?—you should know about Sperber’s work. After spending four decades safeguarding food for industry giants such as Pillsbury and Cargill, as well as serving as an international advisor for the USDA and the World Health Organization, he’s now semi-retired—but certainly not merely semi-productive. These days, he develops textbooks on food pathogens and food safety risks and has recently taken on a role as secretariat of Safe Supply of Affordable Food Everywhere, a unique partnership among global food companies such as Cargill and McDonald’s, non-governmental organizations and academia to study and address threats to the global food chain.
Paul Stitt MS’69, Biochemistry
In 1976, Stitt left a career in corporate food-product development to launch Natural Ovens Bakery, a small bread shop in Manitowoc, Wis. Buoyed by the popularity of his fresh, wholesome breads, he’s been out to change American diets ever since. Dismayed by the ubiquity of junk foods in children’s diets, Stitt teamed up with schools in Appleton, Wis., to devise a five-year pilot project to remake school lunches. His efforts to replace soda and French fries with fruits and whole grain “brain food” was featured in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, SuperSize Me. Now retired from Natural Ovens, Stitt lives in Virginia and is working on a project to fortify foods with nutritional supplements.
M. Aman Wirakartakusumah MS’77 PhD’81, Food Science
Widely recognized as one of the leading authorities on food in Indonesia, Wirakartakusumah is a professor of food science and technology and the former rector of Bogor Agricultural University. But these days, his most prominent role is as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In that capacity, Wirakartakusumah has advanced educational programs to address malnutrition and promote food safety and championed enhanced fitness and health education in schools. A fellow of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology, he has been a strong advocate for the development of standards for research on biodiversity and biotechnology in Indonesia, where issues such as genetically engineered crops and conservation of natural resources are pressing. He also finds time to stay connected with UW-Madison, serving on a global advisory panel for the dean of international studies.This article was posted in Food, Food Systems, Grow Dozen, Summer 2008, Working Life and tagged Alumni, Animal sciences, Bacteriology, Bill Sperber, Biochemistry, Brian Flood, Cassandra Miller, Chris Blanchard, Entomology, Food, food industry, Food science, Grow Dozen, Grow Summer 2008, Horticulture, In the Field, James Lochner, Jonathan Frey, Juelene Sorensen Beck, Kevin Bacon, Kim Blanchard, M. Aman Wirakartakusumah, Mark Finke, nutritional sciences, Paul Stitt, Robert Brackett, The Dozen, The Grow Dozen, Working Life.