This is a series catching up with some old and not-so-old friends of Purdue Agriculture Connections. If you are wondering whatever happened to someone you read about in this publication, contact Tom Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org
By all accounts, Phil Nelson, BS ’56, PhD ’67, should be retired by now. The 72-year-old should be fishing off the bow of his pontoon boat at the lake home in northern Michigan he and his wife, Sue, built.
But the closest Nelson has been to a rod and reel in the past year is a line he has used in dozens of speeches he has given during his yearlong, globe-trotting World Food Prize victory lap.
“Give a man a fish,” Nelson quotes the ancient parable, “and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
But the heart of Nelson’s message, which he’s given to audiences ranging from the Bay View (Michigan) Breakfast Club to the Milan (Italy) 2015 World’s Fair organizing committee, is this addition to that old saying:
“But teach a man to preserve his fish, and he’ll feed a village and he’ll make some money, too.”
After being named World Food Prize Laureate in October 2007, Nelson thought he would make a few appearances on behalf of the organization, pose for a few photos, then quietly fade into the Michigan north woods.
But his fans, it seems, and his conscience, won’t allow it.
“The World Food Prize has certainly changed our lives,” Nelson admits. “It seems that everyone wants to know why I got the award.”
Nelson’s research at Purdue has centered on the aseptic processing of bulk quantities of food. He developed a majority of the bulk aseptic processing system: from tank linings to product packaging.
In aseptic processing, food is stored at ambient temperatures in sterilized containers ranging in size from 300-gallon plastic bags (bag-in-box technology that allows shipping of the bags in plastic or cardboard boxes) to a 1.8-million-gallon aseptic tank on an oceangoing ship.
He found the prize carries even more weight overseas than in the states.
“The whole year has been quite unique,” he says. In addition to Italy, Nelson spoke in Japan as well as in Orlando, Honolulu, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto. In Taiwan, Nelson says, he felt like a rock star. “Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with me.”
Nelson originally thought receiving the World Food Prize only changed how others saw him. But one year later, Nelson says he really is a different person.
“The World Food Prize created a whole new vision for me,” he says. “Everywhere I’ve gone, people have been so positive about the aseptic process, and it just spurs you on.”
Nelson has a vision to create an international center at Purdue for food technology development and to expand local markets in developing countries.
His vision for the center involves efforts by Purdue and national and international research centers to advance food security by reducing food losses and enhancing markets for new and traditional processed foods.
“This center would address needs in food production, product preservation and market development to grow local economies in developing countries that are of great interest for the foreign affairs and security of the U.S,” he says. “A center like that could have a major impact on world hunger.”
He has had plenty of experience starting something from scratch — he founded Purdue’s Department of Food Science in 1983 and stepped down as department head in 2003.
The new center comes at a price, however — it will take millions of dollars just to get it off the ground. And that’s the sort of fund-raising effort that will require Nelson to do a whole lot of fishing.
Contact Nelson at email@example.com