America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2013

These men and women decide what and how you eat, whether you realize it or not

50 Most Powerful People in Food

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This is our third annual list of America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food. Power is juice — the ability to make things happen. It's authority, strength, muscle. It's what starts trends, pulls strings, rewrites rules, and shifts paradigms. In the food world, the people with power are the ones who affect what and how and where and why we eat, or could if they wanted to. They're the agribusiness moguls who decide — either responding to market demand or creating it — what crops are planted and how they're harvested and sold. They're the representatives of major food processing and distribution concerns and retail food outlets, which is to say the people who actually put food on our tables. They're the scolds and nannies — and admirable consumer advocates — who tell us what we should and shouldn't eat and why, sometimes upending whole industries in the process; the key figures in the governmental agencies concerned with the economics and the safety of our food supply; the media stars and public figures who sway our food opinions and stimulate our appetites; the chefs and restaurateurs who introduce us to new raw materials, new dishes, new culinary notions, and establish the standards we come to expect for the preparation and the serving of food. They're the journalists, online or on television or even still sometimes in print, who report on all of the above…

Read More: America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2013

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. We collaborated to assemble an initial list, based on research that we carried on all year, then added and subtracted, fine-tuned and developed. In deciding who stayed on the list and where, we 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 culinary celebrities.

Our ultimate criterion was simply this: Is each person on our list capable, whether by dint of corporate station, media access, moral authority, or sheer personality, of substantially changing, improving, and/or degrading the quality and variety of the American diet or the way we think about it? If so, how absolute is the power he or she can bring to bear?

Almost 80 percent of our honorees were on last year's roster, but there are some new names, too — either fresh blood in charge of the same mighty organizations we included last year or entirely new entries. Some of the returnees moved up the ladder and some moved down. This might be because of new accomplishments (or because of What Have They Done for Us Lately?) or just because we're looking at them this year from a different angle.

We've certainly included some high-profile individuals — first lady and dietary advocate Michelle Obama (#24); Chez Panisse founder and director of the admirable Edible Schoolyard Project Alice Waters (#30); irrepressible chef–restaurateur and TV personality Mario Batali (#25); prolific food writer and New York Times food politics columnist Mark Bittman (#39), to name but four — but they are interleafed with less familiar personalities. Among these are Donald Thompson (#7), who runs a little fast-food chain called McDonald's; Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods with the FDA (#3); Steve Spinner, whose United Natural Foods, Inc. stocks the shelves at Whole Foods and hundreds of other right-thinking food outlets (#17); Kevin Systrom, who co-founded Instagram and changed the way we (literally) look at food (#20);  and Bill Marler (#48), a leading food safety advocate and a personal injury lawyer who specializes in defending people who contract foodborne illnesses at the hands of large concerns.

In a number of cases, it must be admitted, power accrues not to an individual so much as to the company or agency or advocacy group he or she commands. Anyone who won the top spot at Monsanto (Hugh Grant, #2) or the National Restaurant Association (Dawn Sweeney, #31) would make our list, as would whoever holds the restaurant reviewer's chair at The New York Times (Pete Wells, #14).

It should be stressed that a high ranking on our list of the 50 mightiest food folk in America doesn't necessarily imply approval. Do we believe that the president and CEO of Wal-Mart (Mike Duke, #5) is a more admirable food world figure than, say, José Andrés (#18) or Thomas Keller (#40)? Of course not. It's just that the food choices of more Americans (sad to say) are undoubtedly affected by Duke than by those two excellent and influential chefs.

Choosing who to include and who to omit was difficult; putting them in order of importance was a bear. We're confident that we've come up with a pretty good list, though. What do you think? Did we omit anybody obvious, or give undue prominence to some food folk or not enough to others? Check out the slideshow and leave a comment to let us know.

50. The Family Farmer

49. Deb Perelman, Author

48. Bill Marler, Foodborne Illness Lawyer and Attorney

47. Michael Pollan, Author

46. Ingrid Newkirk, President and Co-Founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

45. John T. Edge, Author and Director, Southern Foodways Alliance

44. Danny Meyer, Restaurateur

43. Guy Fieri, Chef–Restaurateur and TV Personality

42. Susan Ungaro, President, James Beard Foundation

41. Tom Colicchio, Chef-Restaurateur and TV Personality

40. Thomas Keller, Chef-Restaurateur

39. Mark Bittman, Journalist and Author

38. Catherine Cassidy, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Taste of Home

37. Fred DeLuca, Co-Founder and President, Subway

36. Wolfgang Puck, Chef–Restaurateur

35. Bill Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength

34. Grant Achatz, Chef–Restaurateur

33. Anthony Bourdain, Author and TV Personality

32. Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief, Food & Wine

31. Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association

30. Alice Waters, Chef-Restaurateur and Founder and Director, The Edible Schoolyard Project

29. Bob Aiken, President and CEO, Feeding America

28. Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice-Chairman, Monterey Bay Aquarium

27. David A. DeLorenzo, President and CEO, Dole Food Company

26. Dan Bane, Chairman and CEO, Trader Joe's

25. Mario Batali, Chef–Restaurateur and TV Personality

24. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States

23. John Mackey, Founder and Co-CEO, Whole Foods Market

22. Jeremy Stoppelman, Co-Founder and CEO, Yelp

21. David Dillon, Chairman and CEO, The Kroger Co.

20. Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder and CEO, Instagram

19. James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters

18. José Andrés, Chef-Restaurateur

17. Steve Spinner, CEO, President, and Director, United Natural Foods, Inc.

16.  Paul Grimwood, CEO and Chairman, Nestlé USA

15. David Kirchhoff, CEO, Weight Watchers International

14. Pete Wells, Restaurant Critic, The New York Times

13. Craig Jelinek, CEO, Costco

12. Bob Tuschman, General Manager and Senior Vice President, Food Network

11. Donnie Smith, President and CEO, Tyson Foods

10. Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, USDA

9. Gregory Page Chairman and CEO, Cargill

8. Ben Silbermann, Founder and CEO, Pinterest

7. Donald Thompson, Vice Chairman and CEO, McDonalds

6. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsi

5. Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart

4. Patricia Woertz, Chairman, President, and CEO, Archer Daniels Midland

3. Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Food, Federal Drug Administration

2. Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO, The Monsanto Company

1. Jack Menzel, Product Managing Director, and Bernardo Hernandez, Director of Product Management and Managing Director for Zagat, and their teams, Google


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23 Comments

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No mention of any cooperatives, in food production, wholesale, or retail. The Family Farmer is enabled to resist or compete with big agribusiness thru cooperatives, so someone like Chuck Conner at the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives or Roger Johnson at the National Farmer's Union could be given a nod. Or, since CEOs are popular on the list, how about the heads of CHS or Land O'Lakes? These are huge businesses but still operate to serve their member farmers rather than seeking only to maximize shareholder profit. The foodies would like Organic Valley to be featured, a national co-op brand whose members are all small farmers - their CEO George Siemon or their Director of Cooperative Affairs, Jerry McGeorge, would be worthy peers on this list. Perhaps cooperatives, by their democratic and community-oriented nature, are simply not good fits for lists of the top most powerful individuals. But, I feel a mention of the role of cooperatives in our food system is warranted, and I hope you'll consider these ideas in future lists.

stkittchick's picture

Bravo for including Ingrid E. Newkirk of PETA. She and her organization have done more to help animals than any other group. Countless animals have been spared miserable lives and agonizing deaths on factory farms because so many people have switched to a healthy and human vegan or vegetarian diet. PETA has done wonders to educate the public about the cruel industrialized system of animal slaughter as well as the significant health benefits of not eating animals. GoVeg.com had tons of free recipes and tips -- check it out!

drbbq's picture

Pete Wells? Really? You guys ever leave New York?

Gardengal's picture

..."healthy-eating advocate Michelle Obama"??????
Can you spell p-o-l-i-t-c-a-l?????
Give me a break.

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It's sad, isn't it, that women make up only 25% of the names on this list.

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I don't really see the influence that any of these nominees have. These are not real world influences by any means. At least from the foundation of what food is and what it can be. Obviously Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Thomas Keller, among others deserve the recognition, but really? Who in their right mind would select any of these, if the honest idea of food was the topic. I can genuinely say that a good portion of these nominees do not eat, breathe and sleep food...nor do they have it's best interest at heart.

TheDexter's picture

I'm truly sorry that you don't understand just how powerful Monsanto and it's gatekeepers are. #2

tdm-35-icon.png

..you forgot to include in your list the CEOs of: Goldman-Sachs, Morgan Stanley and McKinsey.

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Any thoughts on adding John Tesar or Kerry Simon to this list?

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Cool list.

hmiller361's picture

How extremely disappointing that farmers and ranchers are not on this list! Wither you eat organic meat and vegetables, home-grown, or grocery store meat.. it is all because of a farmer or rancher. The agriculture industry has been hit with a lot of adversity and issues lately, and the industry has done a fantastic job of stepping up and educating the public about how important farming and ranching is. I would like to see writers and bloggers give them the credit that they haven't been receiving.

Hannah
theambitiouscattlegirl.blogspot.com

tdm-35-icon.png

I'm not seeing any farmers on the list. Invisible as usual.

Colman Andrews's picturetdm-35-icon.png

Will Allen is a farmer, Arturo Rodriguez represents farmers, and Archer Daniels Midland is one of the biggest "farmers" in the world. Small farmers are a great American treasure, but unfortunately, as I suspect most of them will all too readily admit, they just don't wield very much power in the food industry. As I noted in my introduction, this isn't a list of admirable people (necessarily), but rather of those who actually have a major influence on what and how we eat.

tdm-35-icon.png

Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan need to be much higher on the list.

What about Joel Saladin?

It's also interesting that the people who are interested in whole, healthy foods and improving health are a the bottom of the list and the people who represent corporations, bureaucracy, and impacting our lifestyles with processed, unhealthy foods are at the top.

geojm's picture

i am a wanta be the next big deal in the foodie world i wanta have tv shows an cook books an a big fan base an following i wanta be the male rachael or giada an bigger then gordon have tons of ideas for food an shows i wanta take over pbs an the food network an cooking channel an cable an the on line web

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I think it would be interesting to create one of these on a regional level. There are people who are making significant impacts at the regional level that are otherwise unknown nationally.

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I think it would be interesting to create one of these on a regional level. There are people who are making significant impacts at the regional level that are otherwise unknown nationally.

momtomany's picture

This list really speaks to the tragedy that exists in our country regarding our food supply and how we eat. When the top 12 spots belong to corporations that have NOTHING to do with either healthy OR good food, and really, there is no one that has anything to do with real, healthy food that is produced ethically and without chemicals/hormones, etc until you get down as far as #21 (except for Wolfgang Puck). Wow. I knew it was bad, but didn't realize how bad.

Colman Andrews's picturetdm-35-icon.png

You may not realize it or like it, but unless you grow and process everything you eat, then of course they do.

avidreader14's picture

david novak? yum brands? world's largest restaurant company?

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It's a fair compilation and I really appreciate the explanation of how you chose the list - that transparency makes it easy to understand the perspective and purpose.

Sad that over 70% are male and more than 90% are Caucasian (I am both). Not arguing your selection, process or validity of the selection, simply observing the connections.

It's also amazing to think how this list would be altered if junk food suddenly disappeared - both with it's direct suppliers and those who make advertising and other indirect revenue from it.

Lots to chew over, thanks for putting it together.

tdm-35-icon.png

Certainly a highly diverse group but I'm laughing at the addition of Elise Bauer. Really? She started cooking when she moved back home and has less experience than my children in this realm. High traffic as the result of the opportunity to start a blog when her parents were supporting her does not make her an influence. It makes her lucky.

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