Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An Ode to Dr. Joseph L. Balintfy and Food Management Science

This blogpost is being written for this month's INFORMS blog challenge which is: O.R. and Food.

When the theme was selected, special memories flooded back and I knew that I had to write about the Food Management Scientist Extraordinaire -- Dr. Joseph L. Balintfy.

I first met Dr. Balintfy when I came to my interview at UMass Amherst for a faculty position, after receiving my PhD at Brown University. When I was hired at its Business School (now the Isenberg School), my senior colleague in Management Science was Dr. Joseph L. Balintfy. He had been born in Hungary and operations research / management science involving mathematical models and algorithms associated with menu planning, diets, food preferences over time, food price indices, and many other food-related issues and problems were his life's work.

Dr. John F. Raffensperger of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, wrote a beautiful blog piece, Balintfy Made the World Better with O.R. after Professor Balintfy's passing on December 30, 2008 (an obituary also appeared in OR/MS Today). Raffensperger's tribute contains many valuable links to Balintfy's contributions.

I knew Professor Balintfy not only as a scholar but also as a truly original human being. He was married to Lily Lancaster, who was a nutritionist, and was working on her doctoral dissertation in Management Science at UMass. I had the pleasure of serving on her dissertation committee. Her dissertation was highly original -- planning how food should be displayed aesthetically on a plate. I still remember some of the lessons -- don't have all the food be yellow or all white (although I know of some children who might think otherwise).

Parties over their elegant home on Blue Hills Road in Amherst were special. Not only were the guests served elegant, delicious cuisine, in a house filled with oil paintings, but after each meal we would be "treated" to a nutritional and calorie breakdown of what we had just consumed using, of course, software that Balintfy had developed for such purposes. He had a company that sold food management science software to schools, hospitals (even in Scandinavia I recall him telling me) but what continued to frustrate him was the difficulty of selling his menu planning software to certain prison systems (including one in New Jersey). When it came to food preferences, the wardens wanted to minimize the prisoners' utilities rather than to maximize them and they would say to Balintfy: if the prisoners don't like grapefruit that is what we will serve them!

At one of the lavish parties at the Balintfy home, I met Jane Garvey and her husband, our long-serving sheriff, who were neighbors. Jane Garvey later became the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and was responsible for air traffic during 9/11. She has been honored for her amazing leadership on multiple occasions and last Spring I received an honor named after her (quite special).

Balintfy's productivity was well-known and he worked closely with his students. I found an online list of some of the reports that his Food Management Science group had produced and you can salivate at the titles.

Fascinatingly, William P. Pierskalla, writing in a report, "Nurse Scheduling: A Successful Multi-Site O.R. Implementation -- Why? " back in 1975, stated: As was pointed out at the ORSA-TIMS_AIIE Meeting in Atlantic City two years ago, the only multi-site successful implementation of an operations research study in health was the menu-planning and dietary inventory model developed by Joseph L. Balintfy.

Joe Balintfy was always true to himself and he left not only his work but many amazing memories for those who had the experience of knowing and working with him.