Dr. Owen Fennema – A Legend

By Kate Sweitzer

Dr. Fennema, one of the “fathers of food science,” is a name synonymous with all things food chemistry. You may recognize his name from the gold-standard text in food chemistry education “Fennema’s Food Chemistry”, which is now in its fourth edition. Only a few short months ago, on August 1, 2012, the man who changed the food science profession passed away to complications of cancer at the age of 83. Dr. Fennema was more than a scientist; he was an author, an incredible editor, an excellent lecturer, an advisor, and a champion for the advancement of knowledge within the field of food science.


He earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, quickly became a part of the faculty, later led the department, and remained at the University until his retirement in 1996. Throughout his career, he championed the advancement of the Institute of Food Technologists publications. According to Dr. Fennema, “If it is good, sound science and meets the requirements of peer-review, then IFT has the obligation to publish it for the betterment of food science and technology.” These words were a mantra which pushed IFT to create the Journal of Food Science Education and Comprehensive Reviews on Food Science and Food Safety both of which are electronic only publications. He streamlined and simplified the submission and other processes in publishing IFT journals, bringing IFT publications into the “21st century and began JFS’s long climb to respectability among food science scholars. His contributions to the success that IFT’s journals are enjoying today cannot be underestimated” (Daryl Lund).


Dr. Fennema was extensively involved with IFT and also in the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUoFST) of which IFT follows. Fennema has been recognized by all of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed upon him, such as becoming an IFT Fellow, receiving the Cruess award, the Carl R Fellers award, and the Nicholas Appert award. These are an indication of the incredible impact Dr. Owen Fennema has had upon the food industry.


In his spare time, Fennema was also skilled at wood working, carpentry, stained glass art, and poetry. One of Fennema’s poems was dedicated to IFT and still remains within the national IFT office in Chicago. Previously, it was never available to read unless a pilgrimage was made to the IFT offices. Thanks to the help of IFT staff and Emily Wolter for obtaining pictures of the poem, I have transcribed it and you can have access to the pdf at the link below:

 Ode to IFT_Fennema

To close, I would like to pass along an excerpt from Daryl Lund, Fennema’s first PhD student in 1968 and successor in editor-in-chief of IFT.

“How do you sum up the contributions of one man, a man of such enormous intellect, impact on his chosen field of study, intrinsic leadership, and humanitarianism? The answer is, “It is impossible.” What you can do is recognize his contributions and be thankful that we had him with us, that he made our journey easier. I would be remiss if I did not use a Vince Lombardi quote to end this tribute, since Owen loved the Packers. Lombardi said, “ The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence.” Owen indeed was committed to excellence and his contributions were monumental. Rest in peace, dear Owen.”


Be sure to watch the IFT video remembrance: bit.ly/OwenFennema

Also, Daryl Lund’s “In Memoriam” is available here: tinyurl.com/Fennema


Photo Credit: http://www.gundersonfh.com

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