America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2011

These men and women really cook.

Power is the ability to make things happen. It's authority, strength, muscle, swack, juice.

In the food world, the people with power are the ones who affect what and how and where and why we eat — or who can, if they want to. They're the agribusiness moguls who decide what gets grown and how it gets harvested and sold; the representatives of major food processing, distribution concerns, and retail food outlets who create new products and service the demand for edibles old and new. They're the scolds and nannies — and admirable consumer advocates — who tell us what we should and shouldn't eat, sometimes upending whole industries in the process.

Some wield a traditional form of power, like the key figures in the governmental agencies concerned with the economics and the safety of our food supply; some have more ephemeral might, like the media stars and public figures who sway our food opinions and stimulate our appetites today but might well be gone tomorrow. The food-powerful include the chefs and restaurateurs who ignite food trends, introduce us to unfamiliar products and culinary notions, and establish the standards we come to expect for the preparation and the serving of food; they also include the journalists who report on all of the above…

We've thrown in a few men and women whose connection with food is less than obvious, too (and explained why they're there). And #1 on our list doesn't fit neatly into any one slot — though it's somebody the reader is apt to know very well.

Any catalogue of powerful people — and certainly any ranking of them in order of clout — is bound to be highly subjective, of course. That doesn't mean that it has to be arbitrary. The Daily Meal editors collaborated to assemble our initial list, then added and subtracted, fine-tuned and developed. We did extensive research and had endless discussions and occasionally strenuous debates. One thing that was clear from the beginning was that the most influential figures in the field weren't always the best-known, and that CEOs could wield more might than celebrities.

We certainly included some high-profile individuals — TV personality Rachael Ray (#14), chef Mario Batali (#31), and The New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton (#9), to name three — but they are interleafed with people you may never have heard of, like Gregory R. Page, CEO of Cargill, Inc. (#18), whose company sells about a quarter of all the grain and meat eaten in the U.S. annually; or Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods (#29), named most powerful woman in American business by Forbes.

One unelected but highly visible player in American politics ranks highly on our list, but not for the same reasons that earned a slot for Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (#11), who is charged with carrying out sweeping new federal food safety laws. And then there are names you might not expect to see on a list of food folk at all: What's New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (#27) doing there? And what about Mr. Apple, Steve Jobs (#5)? All will be revealed.

Our ultimate criterion was simply this: Can this person, whether by dint of corporate position, media access, moral authority, or sheer personality, substantially change, improve, and/or degrade the quality and variety of the American diet or the way we think about it? 

We're confident that we've come up with a pretty good list. What do you think? Did we leave off anybody obvious, or give undue prominence to some food folk or not enough to others? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

50. Adam Rapoport

49. Jeffrey Jordan

48. Ingrid Newkirk

47. Martha Stewart

46. Jonathan Gold

45. Dan Bane

44. Danny Meyer

43. Josh Viertel

42. Barry Estabrook

41. Nobu Matsuhisa

40. Dan Barber

39. Ruth Reichl

38. Michael Pollan

37. Mario Batali

36. David Dillon

35. Susan Ungaro

34. Lockhart Steele

33. Catherine M. Cassidy

32. Daniel Boulud

31. Rich Melman

30. Tom Colicchio

29. Irene Rosenfeld

28. Michael Bloomberg

27. Lisa Sharples

26. Indra Nooyi

25. Tim & Nina Zagat

24. José Andrés

23. Arturo Rodriguez

22. Maria Rodale

21. Oprah Winfrey

20. Grant Achatz

19. Thomas Keller

18. Gregory R. Page

17. Donnie Smith

 16. Guy Fieri

15. James Sinegal

14. Rachael Ray

13. Wolfgang Puck

12. John Mackey

11. Michael R. Taylor

10. Jim Skinner

9. Sam Sifton

8. Mike Duke

7. Brooke Johnson

6. Alice Waters

5. Steve Jobs

4. Michelle Obama

3. Hugh Grant

2. Thomas J. Vilsack

1. You

Click here for America's Most Powerful People in Food Slideshow.

* Editors' Note (1/25/11): When we revealed our ranked listing of "America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food," we invited readers to give us their own nominations. Click here for Readers' Choice: More Nominees for America's Most Powerful People in Food.

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