I was in Austin, TX for a week at the beginning of June with a collision of foodniks. The International Association of Culinary Professionals. We talked, we ate, we drank, there were some fantastic panels and there were reasons to play hooky. IACP is at an interesting crossroads (so say I). The organization has been around for over 30 years and acts to connect food professionals from all corners of this industry-photographers, chefs, food stylists, producers, bloggers, authors, eaters, etc. But in an ever more youthful food industry it seems that IACP struggles to bring in the under 35 demographic. Indeed, I was one of a handful of attendees under the age of 30. This was my second year as an IACP member. I joined because it put me in direct contact with people who knew more than me, plain and simple. I started this website in my imagination (honestly, I told people it existed but “was down for service” for a good 6 months before I even launched). It was an idea bubbling in my head and when the bubbles started to burst I found myself with questions questions questions. I needed to meet people (face-to-face, not pixel-to pixel) who had done this before, who had started a website on a whim and turned it into something more. For me, IACP is the place to get face time with peers you’ve known online for ages. It’s a deep resource and I’m happy to have it at my fingertips.
So why is it so hard to get us young folks in the door?
Face time is a hard sell. And with a $600-800 ticket price (not including travel expenses), we have to prove a return of equal or greater value. For people starting out in the food world, be they young chefs or baby bloggers, this is a major expense. Hell, for people not starting out in the food industry this is a major expense. And when I’m about to drop serious cash I look long and hard at the product before I write that check. At the relatively minor cost of $100 I decided not to attend the regional conference in NYC this year. What kept me away? A quick demographic breakdown of the speakers instantly deterred me. I believe that we are drawn to speakers for one of two reasons: 1) They are like us 2)We want to be like them. The average panelist at the regional conference was certainly not like me, late 40′s to early 50′s, but the real struggle I felt was that I didn’t see panelists I wanted to be. Sure there were fascinating speakers, and there were even some people talking about what’s happening in the digital world. But those people were not my people. These were not speakers I’d have picked to talk about food in the digital age. Let’s get the folks behind Foodzie on a panel. I want to hear from the Fork.ly team. I want to meet the people my age who are game changers in the online food world. And more than that, I want action. As someone under the age of 30 (and I know many over-30 year olds who’d agree) I don’t want to sit in a room while someone talks at me for 2 hours. Even if it’s a topic I’m enthused about, I lose interest when my participation isn’t necessary.
If we want to change the demographic of our attendees at the national conference we need to change the demographic of our speakers.
If we want to prove value to a younger generation we need to build active programming.
One place IACP really does it right? The Kids in the Kitchen committee hosts an event each year that is both active and youthful. This year we went to the excellent UT Elementary school and gardened with the kids. We then drove to Whole Foods and showed these funky eaters how to cook what they grew. I left with dirty hands, as sure a sign of value as anything. The best face time at IACP is there, working with culinary peers to educate a new generation. Second best face time? Eating and drinking with new-found friends and old-school cronies while you ditch a few panels and make connections that will last a lifetime. We have to find a way to showcase this value, this nebulous, unplanned, off-campus “networking” that changes your career.
I want IACP to grow, to change, to be the best it can be. It has played a major role in my professional development and I want it to do the same for my peers. I made a video highlighting the Kids in the Kitchen event this year, it encapsulates the energy, passion and integrity that I see in IACP members.
There is great value in knowing people who know more than you. Thank you IACP for another great conference.