According to the U.S. National Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS), the average wage for food scientists and technologists in the United States is $71,270 per year. Many industries employing food scientists are watching generations of knowledge retire, and the need is great for the next generation of well trained, highly skilled employees to help feed the world.
The field is broader than you think. According to BLS, “Food Scientists and Technologists include those working inchemistry, microbiology, engineering, and other sciences to study the principles underlying the processing and deterioration of foods; analyze food content to determine levels of vitamins, fat, sugar, and protein; discover new food sources; research ways to make processed foods safe, palatable, and healthful; and apply food science knowledge to determine best ways to process, package, preserve, store, and distribute food” (BLS, 2017).
Take a moment to think about all of the other areas of study that affect food. A few examples are below. What other fields can you list?
- Agricultural production
- Business management
- Computer engineering
- Equipment and buildings designed for food safety and efficiency
- Graphic design
- Understanding of food regulations worldwide
Hanna Quellhorst is a PhD student in Entomology with an emphasis on post-harvest pest management. Read on to find out how her efforts relate to the global food system and what led her to K-State.
Q: How does your area of study affect the food system?
A: Considering that insect pests of major cereal grains account for a minimum of 30% of food losses post-harvest, it is therefore integral to find ways to manage and reduce post-harvest losses. This is especially important as we try to meet the challenge of feeding the predicted 9 billion people who will walk the earth by the year 2050. Post-harvest pest management, in my case, focuses on finding new and improved ways to prevent and manage major insect pests of maize from destroying crops during storage across the globe. Management techniques may include new and reduced-risk insecticides, improved packaging, and better sanitation to prevent the spread of dangerous fungi and their toxins.
Q: How did you decide to pursue this area of study?
A: During my first week of undergraduate study at Purdue University, I listened to William Kamkwamba’s story of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” At age 14, he changed the lives of those around him through his ingenuity by building a windmill that brought electricity and water to his town. His story made a powerful impression on me as I began my college career and I began to be aware of poverty and global food insecurity as well as the ability of even one individual to make a big difference. I already knew that I was interested in insects and wanted to be an Entomologist. However, it was this awakening exposure to the concept of food security and the important components such as irrigation that led me to pursue a career that would harness my expertise in Entomology to make a difference in the lives of others and work towards the goal of global food security.
Q: What course(s) do you recommend to other students who are seeking to build understanding of the food system?
A: I think it is important to build an interdisciplinary view of the food system and the issue of food security. There is no single field/discipline that can solve this massive problem alone. As an Entomologist, rather than simply taking all Entomology courses, I should look for courses on the other core areas of the food system, such as grain science, food science, economics, and so on. These courses will expand your mind and provide different perspectives on the issue. I also recommend applying for internships and other leadership-based programs, which teach students about the global food system and the issue of food security. Look at the Summer Borlaug Institute on Global food security and the Next Generation Delegation at the Chicago Council on Global Food Security. Involve yourself in programs, which provide a broader picture and allow you to meet with other individuals and professionals from different areas of study.
Q: What are your plans for using this information after you graduate?
A: Upon the completion of my PhD, I hope to continue to focus on eradicating global food insecurity through insect pest management, innovation, and sustainable agriculture by working for an international organization or institution that marries science to humanitarianism.