Joseph Balintfy has died. He was a professor of Management Science and Operations Research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. What did Balintfy do that was so cool? Balintfy studied using O.R. to improve nutrition.
Back in 1945, George Stigler tried to calculate the minimum cost of subsistence. He found a good low-cost diet, but he could not prove that it was the cheapest, which also satisfied all nutritional requirements. A couple years later, George Dantzig set about solving this problem, inventing the simplex algorithm to so. This is all well-worn history to the legion of operations researchers.
What is also well known is that Dantzig's solution was awful: liver, cabbage, corn meal, evaporated milk, lard, peanut butter, potatoes, spinach, and wheat flour. And if we update all the nutritional information, Garille and Gass showed that it's not going to get much better.
Balintfy added palatability. Rather than finding the minimum cost of substistence, Balintfy studied the cost of decent subsistence, with considerable implications for national policy. Balintfy wasn't the first person to study this, as Benson at Rutgers was also researching this as early as 1960. (Balintfy even gave credit to Benson for this.) But Balintfy did a great job of it, studying computerized menu planning, food preference over time, and even subtle issues like the food mix for best bioavailability of nutrients, and the probability of satisfying nutritional constraints, given a random distribution of nutrients in a given food. He also studied food price indices, noting that existing fixed weight indices do not allow for substitutions as relative prices change.
Balintfy wrote a complete menu planning system called CAMP. With regal foresight and generosity, he put his program in the public domain. He saw that his program could help the world eat more nutritiously and more cheaply, so he gave it away! How cool is that! How cool is that! (In stark contrast to the breath-taking chutzpah and greed of Anjan Ghose.) According to Balintfy's 1975 article, the program has been used to feed over a million people, and that was 34 years ago. Because he put it in the public domain, others have picked it up and put it in a variety of commercial programs, and the number of people who have benefited is now countless.
However, I am not aware of it being used anywhere now. Also, I haven't been able to find Balintfy's code, but have started to ask colleagues about it. It might be a nice addition to the open source COIN-OR initiative, which was started by IBM; all the more elegant as Balintfy released his code through IBM's Contributed Program Library. It must have been one of the very earliest "open source" programs!
I've been studying problems of nutrition and diet for some years, and my nascent Wagmu site is part of the result. It doesn't have all the tricks that Balintfy implemented, and may never. I'm simply not as clever (nor as well funded) as Balintfy was.