Feeding the Troops
An Interest in Cooking Leads to Exciting Food Science Career
While collecting data for a soldier-ration field study in a remote area of the country, Army food technologist Kenneth Racicot remembers the rough terrain where “at times, our truck was barely capable of progressing and the driving was challenging. We got multiple flat tires, and sometimes the dust made the truck unrecognizable.” The field study was part of a military training exercise and was intended to determine soldiers’ preferred consumption levels for new and existing operational rations. Despite the unusual data-collection environment, Racicot says, “It all worked out in the end, and we got the data we were after.” During his time as an Army civilian employee, Racicot has seized similar opportunities that “offer a glimpse into the life of a warfighter, and it’s a very humbling experience.”
Throughout his career, Racicot has steadfastly pursued his interest in something we all are familiar with: food. Although he admits he was not extremely interested in mathematics and science in school, he was always curious about the natural world. In high school, Racicot began experimenting with food through cooking but after working in several kitchens, he realized that the life of a professional chef — with its grueling schedule that includes nights, weekends, and holidays — was not for him. Besides, he has always been curious and likes digging for answers, and so food science and nutrition seemed like the logical next step.
Racicot went to Framingham State College in Massachusetts and graduated with a B.S. in food science in 1997. He immediately began working at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, Mass., as a contractor employee within the DoD Combat Feeding Directorate. Within a year, he was accepted to the Army’s Career Related Experience in Science and Technology (CREST) program. During his tenure in CREST, he worked toward his master’s degree in food and nutrition from Framingham State College. In 1999, he earned his advanced degree and was hired as a food technologist for the Performance Optimization Research Team within the DoD Combat Feeding Directorate. As an Army civilian scientist, he is responsible for research related to food stability, nutrient stabilization, and evaluation of novel “performance nutrients” to keep our warfighters healthy, energized, and nourished.
Ever curious about how far he could go with food science, Racicot left NSRDEC from 2004 to 2006 to become manager of R&D for Concord Foods. Among many other food products, Concord supplies liquid confections to dessert manufacturers around the world, including the ice cream industry, large bakeries, and makers of candy and nutrition bars. Daily production runs of hundreds of 55-gallon drums of liquid confections (caramels, fruit spreads and syrups, and chocolate spreads, sauces, and syrups) were not uncommon, Racicot recalls. Despite the rewards of tackling challenges associated with the private sector, Racicot decided to return to NSRDEC because “conducting research to help our troops was much more fulfilling for me personally.” Once back with the Army, Racicot began working on his Ph.D. in the biochemical and molecular nutrition program at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston. With his “doctoral degree on the way,” Racicot still finds time to be active in the northeast section of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a national professional organization. He serves as the section’s K-12 outreach coordinator, supporting science for kids in local schools.
“Every year, our group contributes awards to K-12 science fairs around New England, and we give demos at local high schools. We’re especially excited about supporting high schools and middle schools that incorporate farming curricula into their educational programs,” says Racicot. The national IFT recently named Racicot the 2010 Outstanding Volunteer for the Northeast. As a full-time scientist and doctoral candidate, Racicot admits to not having much of a personal life right now. However, this “proud, lifelong, local Massachusetts resident” is supported by a network of family and friends in the area, and he and his wife own their own home. He enjoys outdoor activities such as cycling and golf, and — perhaps not surprisingly — he continues to indulge a special interest: brewing beer at home.