Does It Matter?

My great-uncle Eddy spent his working life shoveling coal, or wrestling with the controls of a variety of steam locomotives. When he passed away in 1956 his favorite loco was a dinosaur, on the way to the scrap heap after 40 years of service.

Uncle Eddy’s job survives today, but his fireman and brakemen are gone. The conductor doesn’t ride half a mile away at the end of the train, but sits beside the engineer. All changed, changed utterly.

I’m sorta like Uncle Eddy today – the job I had when I began 50+ years ago has gone the way of those old steam hoggers, shacks and tallowpots. I just heard that another brand I was proud to work on – Ragu – has been pulled from the shelves in Canada. In that half-century, 6 factories I worked in have closed – another has had half its lifeblood taken away and is hanging on by a thread. Its products are now marketed by a different company.

The food scientist in industry has vanished from the Canadian landscape it seems. Unless you want to work for the government, be an academic, or start your own little food company your chances of having a successful food science career in Canada are close to zero today.

Back when I was a young and aspiring scientist, it was considered a badge of honor to apply your technical knowledge to make foods, safer, better, and more convenient for the customer. Companies like General Foods had a stable of interesting brands – some venerable (Jell-O, Maxwell House) and some new and interesting (Freeze-dried coffee, Cool Whip, Shake n Bake, Tang.)

Now if you can’t make a mint, you divest the brand. Or you make a leveraged buyout or conglomerate out of the company. And above all, you centralize R&D in one country. That country is not Canada.

Sometimes I wonder if my 35 years in the industry made any difference at all in the grand scheme of things. I’ve learned a lot…how much of it applies anymore?

Some sad thoughts on a cloudy cool August day.

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