WAVERLY, Iowa --- Anyone can make a difference.
Philip Nelson was a small tomato grower and processor from Indiana who once had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. Nelson said if he can have a worldwide affect on curtailing hunger, anyone can do it.
The 75-year-old retired food science professor told about 250 people at Wartburg College on Tuesday that all it takes to succeed is passion, determination and a little luck. Nelson addressed students, faculty and staff and the public during a convocation in Neumann Auditorium.
Nelson's desire to find a way to keep tomatoes from rotting in his family's fields eventually helped him revolutionize the food-processing industry. He's credited with refining the aseptic food processing system -- separately super-heating and cooling food and storage containers to create a sterile environment in each. Food can be stored without refrigeration while maintaining its nutritional content.
Nelson's breakthroughs in the 1960s and '70s allowed food to be processed, shipped and stored in bulk without fear of spoilage. He developed a bag-in-box system that was cheaper than metal containers. Overall, the discoveries helped disaster-relief efforts and alleviate hunger in third world nations.
Since retiring from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in May, Nelson has been on the lecture circuit trying to inspire people of any age to help eliminate hunger.
"I'm hoping to show that with an idea, if the stars fall right, you can really make an impact," Nelson said. "If you think big, you just might get it."
Self-Help International co-sponsored the event with Wartburg. Based in Waverly, the nonprofit organization's mission is to alleviate hunger worldwide.
Executive Director Merry Fredrick said Nelson's efforts made food affordable and available to people otherwise without.
As a result, Nelson won the 2007 World Food Prize for his efforts. It's the foremost international award recognizing people who advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.
"We believe it's important to educate people. There's no better way than with a World Food Prize laureate," Fredrick said.
Even though Nelson's food research and development efforts helped save countless people worldwide, he said more needs to be done. Nelson said there's more than 1 million starving people in the world, and a baby dies every 10 seconds from malnutrition. With the world's population growing, he said it will only get worse.
Ramping up production isn't the only answer, Nelson said. Preserving food is just as important. In some countries, he said 25 percent of food spoils in storage or in transit to market.
Nelson continues to train people in aseptic processing. However, he said more help is needed.
"You should remember that one person can make a difference," Nelson said,
Anna Morris, a freshman music therapy student from Emmetsburg, was in awe of Nelson's accomplishments.
"It's very inspiring," she said.