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When the World Food Championships—sometimes called the Olympics of the culinary world—takes place in Orange Beach, Alabama, today through Sunday, UT will be behind the scenes and on the sidelines.

Mike McCloud, the president and CEO of World Food Championships, is a 1990 graduate of the College of Communication and Information and the recipient of a UT Accomplished Alumni Award. He is an award-winning marketing entrepreneur whose accomplishments include running a full-service ad agency, publishing a regional business journal, creating and funding new ventures like the World Food Championships, and serving as lead goods marketing strategist for major brands such as Coca-Cola, Sam’s Club, Bull Outdoor Products, Tyson, Smithfield, and Kraft Foods.

Journalism and Electronic Media Professors Rob Heller and Nick Geidner will be taking students to Alabama to photograph and video the World Food Championships, which will include a military chef challenge and cooking competitions focused on bacon, steak, seafood, recipes, sandwiches, burgers, barbecue, chili, and desserts.

“Mike McCloud is a former student of mine, from the late 1980s,” Heller said. “I’ve kept in touch with him over the years as he progressed in his career from being a publisher to running his own marketing and creative agency to his present work as CEO of the World Food Championships.

“Mike came to speak at a college event last spring and I spoke with him about my interest in bringing photo students to document his event this year. He was enthusiastic about the idea and we’ve been working on arrangements to make this happen.”

McCloud is footing the bill for the group’s trip to Orange Beach, Heller said.

“Our students will be getting real-life experience in visually covering a unique and large event,” Heller said. “Mike McCloud is giving us complete access and free rein to document whatever interests us. He wants to see the event through the eyes of our students and faculty and we hope that we can continue to do this on a yearly basis.”

Geidner said the journalism project, which is being called Inside the Food Fight, is a great opportunity for students to practice their skills outside the classroom.

“Covering the World Food Championships will be a lot of fun for our students, but it will also challenge them to produce high-quality journalism on a deadline in a real-world situation. I can’t think of a better way to train young journalists,” he said.

Brianna Bivens, a senior in JEM, is one of the students who will be going on the trip.

“I am incredibly lucky to have professors that always try to provide students like me with these kinds of opportunities,” she said. “Getting to document the World Food Championships is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to be going.”

For more information, see the project website, or follow the project on Twitter (@UTfoodfight) or Instagram (InsideTheFoodFight).


Amy Blakely (, 865-974-5034)