America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2012

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#50. Will Allen, Founder and CEO, Growing Power
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#50. Will Allen, Founder and CEO, Growing Power
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The towering figure in the urban agriculture movement (literally as well as figuratively — a former pro basketball player, he stands 6 feet 7 inches), the Milwaukee-based Allen has been awarded grants by the Ford, Kellogg, and MacArthur foundations for his work in urban farming and sustainable food production. The MacArthur folks hailed him specifically for "transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations." Besides running farms of his own, he teaches workshops in urban farming all over the country, and has helped spur multitudes of Americans into reclaiming derelict city property for growing food.

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FlickrreviewR

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#49. Martha Stewart, Author, Publisher, TV Personality
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#49. Martha Stewart, Author, Publisher, TV Personality
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Late last year, her daughter Alexis published a book called Whateverland: Learning to Live Here (co-written with Jennifer Koppelman Hutt) that painted Stewart in a not-so-pleasant light, and it was announced that her daytime TV show would cease production in April of 2012. All that aside, she celebrates the 30th anniversary of her seminal first book, Entertaining, this year and she remains one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry. Despite some restructuring, her company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, continues to produce books, periodicals, housewares, and more, and she remains an arbiter of domestic fad and fashion, in and out of the kitchen.

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Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#48. Mark Bittman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times
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#48. Mark Bittman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times
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This almost frighteningly prolific food journalist and author of the wildly popular How to Cook Everything, among many other books, no longer writes his "The Minimalist" cooking column for The New York Times, but he has traded up to a regular recipe spread in the Times Sunday Magazine and a gig ruminating on food politics for the paper's op-ed pages. He has the platform, and in time will doubtless figure out how to use it to maximum effect.

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Retna Ltd/Corbis

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#47. Danny Meyer, Restaurateur
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#47. Danny Meyer, Restaurateur
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In addition to ranking among New York City’s top dining destinations, Meyer’s restaurants — among them Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, Maialino, and The Modern (and until recently Eleven Madison Park) — are also distinguished for their superior hospitality, a guiding principle in his business philosophy as the founder and CEO of Union Square, er, Hospitality Group. Meyer even penned a non-restaurant-specific manual called Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. Meyer continues to open new places, including Untitled (at the Whitney Museum of American Art) last year and now the North End Grill, overseen by chef Floyd Cardoz, who cooked at his now-closed Indian fusion place, Tabla. Then, of course, there's the Shake Shack effect. Not only has the immensely popular burger mini-empire continued expanding, it has served as a model for other chefs to serve quality food in a low-end context. And now the restaurateur is linking up with Related, a real estate giant that will take his brands worldwide into stadiums, parks, and other properties.

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Ellen Silverman

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#46. Bill Marler, Foodborne Illness Lawyer and Attorney
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#46. Bill Marler, Foodborne Illness Lawyer and Attorney
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This accomplished personal injury and products liability attorney has been litigating foodborne illness cases since 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, creating a Washington state record for an individual personal injury action ($15.6 million). More than a lawyer, Marler has become an advocate for a safer food supply, petitioning the USDA to better regulate pathogenic E. coli, working with nonprofit food safety and foodborne illness victims’ organizations, and helping spur the passage of the 2010-2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

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Bill Marler

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#44. Elise Bauer, Blogger, SimplyRecipes.com
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#44. Elise Bauer, Blogger, SimplyRecipes.com
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Bauer’s blog features more than one thousand recipes — a virtual recipe box stuffed with her favorite homespun dishes. Simply Recipes features her own tried-and-true formulas, along with those crafted by family and friends. Bauer started the blog in 2003 as a way to document the recipes that she grew up with in a household of six children. Her site regularly records more than 6 million monthly unique visitors, astonishing for a modest blog, and in 2011, she claimed the top spot on The Daily Meal’s ranking of 25 top food blogs for the second year running.

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Elise Bauer

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#43. Dan Barber, Chef
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#43. Dan Barber, Chef
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If the farm-to-table, eat-local movement had a patron saint, it would likely be Dan Barber. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the Michelin-starred sister establishment to his Manhattan restaurant, Blue Hill, is part of a working farm in New York State's Westchester County. With that as his headquarters, Barber has become a green-cuisine idol, encouraging other restaurateurs to develop close relationships with their suppliers and source locally and sustainably. Barber’s authority is expanding — the James Beard Award-winning chef was appointed to serve on the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, and after attending last year's Mistura Gastronomic Festival in Peru, became one of the international culinary celebrities to help write an “Open Letter to the Chefs of Tomorrow.”

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Jane Munkvold Photographer

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#42. Ingrid Newkirk, President and Co-Founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
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#42. Ingrid Newkirk, President and Co-Founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
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Newkirk, the vocal head of this increasingly high-profile organization, agitates for total vegetarianism, but meanwhile, acknowledging reality, espouses more humane treatment of animals raised for culinary and other purposes. The group's ever-widening influence on government agencies and courts demonstrates the power that PETA has harnessed through its sometimes controversial awareness campaigns.

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PETA

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#41. Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA
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#41. Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA
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With experience as a farm laborer and a degree in philosophy from Harvard, Viertel, at the helm of Slow Food USA since 2008, brings both intelligence and believability to the movement's quest to “change the way food and farming works” nationally and globally (as he put it in a talk last year). A grassroots initiative born in Italy, Slow Food aims to educate consumers and improve the way food products are produced and preserved; in the past year, the organization has also functioned as a political watchdog, getting involved in local and federal food-related legislation. Viertel was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (he is 33) for his leadership of the nonprofit, which he has helped make highly visible and widely respected, stimulating culinary discourse nationwide.

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Slow Food USA

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#40. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Host of 'The Dr. Oz Show'
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#40. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Host of 'The Dr. Oz Show'
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Dr. Oz had a good year. This Turkish-American cardiothoracic surgeon and author already hosted a popular daily TV broadcast about medical issues and personal health (which won him a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host), as well as a virtual nutrition and exercise program called Move It and Lose It. In those contexts, he has had a major influence on American's eating habits. Then, in late 2011, he went on to establish himself as a strong voice in the pursuit of consumer food safety, reporting his findings that arsenic levels in store-bought apple juice made it unsafe for drinking. The FDA responded by calling Oz’s study flawed and “extremely irresponsible,” but subsequent studies have added to a growing body of evidence suggesting that he might have been right.

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Joe Fornaio/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#39. Susan Ungaro, President, The James Beard Foundation
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#39. Susan Ungaro, President, The James Beard Foundation
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Since Ungaro became president of this organization in 2006, after it was shaken by an embezzlement scandal, the nonprofit James Beard Foundation has enjoyed an enormous rise in stature and credibility. It doles out what are considered the highest honors in American food and wine, the James Beard Awards, sometimes called "the Academy Awards of food.” The foundation runs a serious scholarship program, and the James Beard House in Greenwich Village in New York City remains a high-profile showcase for up-and-coming chefs.

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Arnold Adler Photography

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#38. Tom Colicchio, Chef-Restaurateur, and TV Personality
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#38. Tom Colicchio, Chef-Restaurateur, and TV Personality
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Since 2006, Colicchio has been the host of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, which has made him one of the most visible restaurant figures in the country (he has even done cameos on Treme and The Simpsons). Through the success of the TV show, he has helped bring both veteran and novice chefs into the living rooms and onto the computer screens of individuals who don’t even watch the Food Network. Sure, he’s shilling Coca-Cola, but he’s also an incredibly accomplished chef and the recipient of five James Beard Awards. He is also the proprietor of a successful dining empire, with fine dining establishments like Craft, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011, as well as the ‘wichcraft upscale sandwich shops, now found all over the U.S.

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NBCU

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#36. Michael Pollan, Author
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#36. Michael Pollan, Author
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A leading voice in the national discussion about where our food comes from and how it is produced, Pollan is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and appears regularly in other media, publishing articles like his recent list of the world’s seven most powerful foodies (sound familiar?) for Forbes. No conversation about modern commercial foodways and the American agricultural system would be complete without mention of this best-selling author. His body of work, including the James Beard Award-winning Omnivore’s Dilemma and an updated edition of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual in 2011, has made him one of the more prominent critics of American agribusiness.

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Alia Malley

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#35. Vicki B. Escarra, President and CEO, Feeding America
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#35. Vicki B. Escarra, President and CEO, Feeding America
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Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Its mission is to provide nutritional sustenance to the variously disenfranchised through a nationwide network of member food banks, and to engage us both individually and on a governmental level in the fight to end hunger. Escarra promotes such efforts as The BackPack program (for healthy, kid-friendly foods) and, with ConAgra, Child Hunger Ends Here. Such notables as Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Taye Diggs have filmed public service spots for Escarra.

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Delta Airlines/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#34. Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association
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#34. Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association
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As the major food-service lobbying organization, the "other" NRA represents more than 380,000 operations, from fine-dining restaurants and fast-food chains to food suppliers and nonprofits. It has also set up food safety programs, provides scholarships in hospitality and culinary studies, assists its members with maintaining sound environmental practices, runs the Kids LiveWell campaign encouraging restaurants to serve healthy options for children, and opposes efforts to raise the minimum wage.

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National Restaurant Association

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#33. José Andrés, Chef-Restaurateur
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#33. José Andrés, Chef-Restaurateur
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Despite cool currents from Scandinavia, Spain remains the hot property today in the food world, for everything from casual bar food to the farthest reaches of the avant-garde. Andrés has long been an ambassador to these United States for all that is good about Spanish cuisine, as well as our foremost interpreter (in several senses) of Ferran Adrià. But there's more to him than that. Half the restaurants in his ever-growing ThinkFoodGroup serve non-Spanish cuisines, including Middle Eastern as well as an inspired mash-up of Mexican and Chinese at his latest venture, China Poblano in Las Vegas. Andrés has even shown us a thing or two about our own culinary heritage, transforming his flagship Café Atlantico in the nation's capital into an America-themed pop-up. With his nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen and other initiatives, Andrés is also a social activist, reminding fellow chefs of the breadth of their responsibilities to their communities.

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Pablo de Loy

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#32. Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief, Food & Wine
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#32. Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief, Food & Wine
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As editorial boss of one of the leading magazines in the epicurean category, Cowin oversees such trend- and career-enhancing institutions as the publication's annual Best New Chefs and now Best New Pastry Chefs issues and the premier U.S. culinary festival, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo. It would be hard to be a celebrity chef in America today without Cowin's support. (She has also recently launched, incidentally, a campaign called Chefs Make Change, promoting 10 chefs who have their own charitable orginazations.)

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Dana Cowin

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#31. Thomas Keller, Chef-Restaurateur
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#31. Thomas Keller, Chef-Restaurateur
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Though only a small number of people every year have the privilege of dining at Keller’s top-of-the-line establishments, the dual flagships of The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif., and Per Se in New York City, each garlanded with three Michelin stars, the two have set the tone for fine dining all over the country. Per Se’s stature in the mind of critics across the world made it a natural choice for Sam Sifton’s final restaurant review for The New York Times. Keller's unwavering commitment to the principles of French haute cuisine may have earned him the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from French president Nicolas Sarkozy last year, but it is the precision and integrity with which he organizes and runs his kitchens that has positively impacted the entire restaurant industry in America.

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Deborah Jones

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#30. David Dillon, Chairman and CEO, The Kroger Co.
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#30. David Dillon, Chairman and CEO, The Kroger Co.
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Together with its subsidiaries, Kroger is the country’s largest grocery store chain, operating more than 3,000 supermarkets and convenience stores from the West Coast to the Deep South. The multiple dairies, bakeries, meat plants, and other production facilities feed millions of people a year, and Kroger's buying decisions affect the market on a major scale. But Kroger also sets an example for the industry in another way. Named by Forbes as the most generous company in America, its recent philanthropic efforts include $3 million for breast cancer awareness and $1.5 million to support the work of the USO.

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Kroger

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#29. Anthony Bourdain, Author and TV Host
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#29. Anthony Bourdain, Author and TV Host
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Forget that his lurid backstage restaurant memoir, Kitchen Confidential, inspired countless people to enroll in culinary school (and countless chefs to write in-the-life follow-ups) and probably spurred many more to devote themselves to the bad-boy chef lifestyle he has now left behind. Ignore the fact that getting a timely reservation at any restaurant featured on his Travel Channel showNo Reservations, becomes virtually impossible. Concentrate instead on the fact that Bourdain is one of America’s preeminent food-travel references. He has helped to popularize the pastime of seeking out memorable food scenes, from the bizarre to the iconic, across the country and around the world. Plus, when he speaks, whether it’s about Paula Deen, Ruth Bourdain, Alan Richman, or just about anyone else, people listen. And hey, he has even scored himself a second food TV show, The Layover, that is all but indistinguishable from his first one. Now that’s power.

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Travel Channel

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#28. Bill Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength
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#28. Bill Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength
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A national nonprofit whose ambitious goal is nothing less than ending childhood hunger in America, SOS partners with such concerns as Food Network, Wal-Mart, and ConAgra, and sponsors nationwide programs like Jeff Bridges’ No Kid Hungry Campaign, with a goal of succeeding in this imposing task by 2015. With strong support from the food-service industry, including many famous chefs, SOS also raises funds through such efforts as the popular Taste of the Nation events across the country and both the Great American Bake Sale and the Great American Dine Out.

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Share Our Strength

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#27. David A. DeLorenzo, President and CEO, Dole Food Company
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#27. David A. DeLorenzo, President and CEO, Dole Food Company
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Dole Food Company is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, operating with 59,000 full-time and seasonal employees who are responsible for more than 200 products in 90 countries. Dole markets such food items as bananas, pineapples (fresh and packaged), grapes, strawberries, salads, and other fresh and frozen fruits and juices. As Dole president, DeLorenzo founded the Dole Nutrition Institute, a nutritional research and education foundation. Dole has also implemented industry leading programs that teach water-recycling methods and processes that reduce overall usage.

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Dole

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#26. Alice Waters, Chef–Restaurateur and Founder and Director, The Edible Schoolyard
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#26. Alice Waters, Chef–Restaurateur and Founder and Director, The Edible Schoolyard
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Although she introduced a whole generation of Americans to the very notion of organic and locally sourced food, Waters' most recent influence can be seen in the growing awareness of childhood nutrition through her foundation the Edible Schoolyard. Even Anthony Bourdain, who once said that Alice Waters annoyed “the living s*@# out of [him],” has called her a visionary, and described her Berkeley, Calif., restaurant, Chez Panisse — which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011 — as “inarguably a cradle of the food revolution.” Working to "teach, nurture, and empower young people," Waters has used her power to influence legislation, and was largely responsible for encouraging Michelle Obama to create a White House garden. With the James Beard Leadership Award she received in 2011, it’s clear that she has long been a driving force in the restaurant world, and is increasingly one in the political sphere as well.

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Wikimedia Commons/Anetode

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#22. Mario Batali, Chef-Restaurateur, and TV Personality
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#22. Mario Batali, Chef-Restaurateur, and TV Personality
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If his fiery red hair and statement orange Crocs aren’t enough to make celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali stand out, wait until he opens his mouth. This cookbook author and media personality is one Italian-American who is definitely interested in sharing with others, and changing our perceptions about what is probably the world's most popular cuisine along the way. Whether he's dispensing the secrets of soulful Italian cooking, promoting his rapidly expanding Eataly market/eatery concept (in partnership with Joe Bastianich), or just offering his insights on food culture in general, we’re pretty sure we’ll be hearing a lot from him for a long time to come. It doesn’t hurt that he is also the co-host of ABC’s new daytime talk show, The Chew, or that his seven-plus restaurants are pretty stellar.

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Jane Bruce

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#21. John Mackey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Whole Foods
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#21. John Mackey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Whole Foods
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The world’s leader in natural and organic food sales, with more than 310 stores in North America and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods has changed buying and eating habits and encouraged the development of new businesses, large and small, to satisfy its increasingly health- and environment-conscious clientele. Recently, Mackey has led the chain into establishing an Animal Welfare Rating System for all meat sold in the stores, and increasingly made sustainable seafood options available. Also in 2011, he launched the Whole Kids Foundation, an organization that partners with schools and educators to make healthy food available in schools.

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Whole Foods Market

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#20. Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice Chairman, Monterey Bay Aquarium
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#20. Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice Chairman, Monterey Bay Aquarium
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The aquarium was opened in 1984, with an endowment from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (as in Hewlett-Packard, or HP), and with the Packards' daughter, Julie, a marine biologist, in charge. In addition to being a first-rate educational facility, the aquarium spearheads numerous movements aimed at ocean conservation. Its most visible immediate effect on the American food community, though, has been through its efforts as a pioneer in the sustainable seafood movement. Chefs and responsible consumers all over the country now consult its Seafood Watch list (in the form of wallet cards, a web site, and an app) of sustainable choices in fish and shellfish, thus impacting the seafood marketplace from coast to coast.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

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#19. Bill J. DeLaney, President and CEO, Sysco
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#19. Bill J. DeLaney, President and CEO, Sysco
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Sysco, short for Systems and Services Company, servicing more than 400,000 customers, is the world's largest broadline food distributor to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, hotels and inns, and other foodservice and hospitality businesses. They are also the nation's top distributor of Asian food products. You have almost certainly eaten vast quantities of Sysco-provided foodstuffs over the years, and the company has immense buying power across many segments of the industry.

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Sysco

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#18. Irene Rosenfeld, CEO, Kraft Foods Snacks Division
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#18. Irene Rosenfeld, CEO, Kraft Foods Snacks Division
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This past August, Kraft — the world's second largest food and beverage company, whose brands include not just Kraft but Nabisco, Oscar Mayer, Cadbury, Maxwell House, and Philadelphia (the cream cheese, not the city) — announced its intention to split into two companies, one focusing on the high-growth snacks division, the other on their burgeoning grocery sales division. Known for encouraging the development of healthier snack foods when she was chairwoman and CEO of Frito-Lay, Rosenfeld, who was CEO of the undivided company, will become CEO of the larger of the two offshoots, the snack portion of the business, which has yet to be named.

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Kraft Foods

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#17. Fred DeLuca, Co-Founder and CEO, Subway
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#17. Fred DeLuca, Co-Founder and CEO, Subway
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All it took was a loan, a friend, and a great idea. Back in 1965, $1,000 brought Subway alive in Bridgeport, Conn., for Fred DeLuca and partner Dr. Peter Buck. What the two originally envisioned as expanding to 32 locations in 10 years is now nearly 36,000 locations all around the world, making Subway the world’s largest single-brand restaurant group and the second largest restaurant operator overall. Subway also floated the idea that fast food doesn’t have to take a toll on your waistline, claiming that a steady diet of certain menu items could help diners shrink their belt size dramatically. In 2011, the Zagat-rated chain won Nation’s Restaurant News’ MenuMasters Award and begin unveiling "eco-restaurants" in 14 locations and counting.

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Subway

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#16. David Kirchoff, CEO, Weight Watchers International
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#16. David Kirchoff, CEO, Weight Watchers International
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This nearing-50-and-never-looked-better weight loss company, now operating in about 30 countries around the world, promotes the elementary idea that eating healthier, getting more exercise, and having a good support system is the best way to drop the pounds. Rated the number one diet system by U.S. News and World Report in 2011, the brand continues to soar in an oversaturated market of gimmicks and trends. Its PointPlus system and celebrity jaw-dropping successes (we're talking to you, Jennifer Hudson), keep Weight Watchers on top and in shape.

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Roll Call/Getty Images

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#14. The New York Times Food Critic
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#14. The New York Times Food Critic
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We're awarding this position on our list not to Pete Wells, who this year succeeded Sam Sifton as the most powerful restaurant reviewer in the country (and whom we are certain will do splendidly), but to the job itself, because we believe that the real swack in this case resides in the office and not in the individual who occupies it. The weekly assessments of New York eating places by whomever holds this post really can turn them into overnight successes or nudge them towards failure, and the opinions expressed here, by extention, influence chefs and restaurateurs all over America.

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Maryse Chevriere

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#13. Wolfgang Puck, Chef-Restaurateur
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#13. Wolfgang Puck, Chef-Restaurateur
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Puck's famous smiling face has become an instantly recognizable trademark all over America. Quite possibly the first real cross-media celebrity chef in the country, he more or less set the bar for California cuisine, can lay fair claim to having invented (or certainly refined) Asian fusion food, has opened a multitude of eateries from sophisticated restaurants to airport to-gos, and remains one of the most popular icons in the frozen food section. With two new restaurants opened in 2011, CUT at 45 Park Lane in London and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air in West Los Angeles, Puck keeps his hands very much in the game. Another claim to fame last year? He was the chef to the ill-fated wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphies.

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Manny Rodriquez/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#12. Donnie Smith, President and CEO, Tyson
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#12. Donnie Smith, President and CEO, Tyson
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It's pretty safe to say that if you eat chicken in America, you eat Tyson. The firm continues to be the world's second largest meat processor and wholesaler and the second largest food producing company in America. Its birds cram grocery-store cooler shelves and it is the exclusive supplier of chicken to a number of chains like McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King. Tyson gives back, too. The company was honored as one of the "Champions of Change" by the White House for its commitment to veterans' programs, and is the second most generous corporate donor in the country, giving millions to children's charities, family shelters, community parks, and recreation areas.

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Jeff Peak

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#11. Gregory Page, Chairman and CEO, Cargill
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#11. Gregory Page, Chairman and CEO, Cargill
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Cargill is now the largest privately held corporation of any kind in the United States in terms of revenue. Page guides his company as an international producer and marketer of food and of agricultural, financial, and industrial products and services. Cargill’s major businesses are trading, purchasing, and distributing grain and other agricultural commodities. In 2011, Cargill announced that it will invest $3.25 million to expand its farmer-training program and put another $3 million into Feeding America to help enforce food safety enhancements in the U.S.

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Eric Miller/Reuters/Corbis

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#10. Patricia Woertz, Chairman, President, and CEO, Archer Daniels Midland
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#10. Patricia Woertz, Chairman, President, and CEO, Archer Daniels Midland
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Archer Daniels Midland provides agricultural storage and transportation service and operates more than 265 plants worldwide, where cereal grains and oilseeds are processed into products used in food, beverage, nutraceutical, industrial, and animal feed markets. Archer Daniels Midland’s profits for fiscal year 2011 were $2.03 billion. At the head of the table is Patricia Woertz, chairman of the board of directors, chief executive officer, and president. Since joining Archer Daniels Midland, Woertz has led it to record financial results while growing its sourcing, transportation, and processing networks through select acquisitions.

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Archer Daniels Midland/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#9. Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO, The Monsanto Company
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#9. Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO, The Monsanto Company
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As leader of this international biotechnology firm, which is the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds — and the manufacturer of Roundup (the most commonly used agricultural pesticide around the world) and recombinant bovine growth hormone among many other substances — Grant has a major influence on the food we eat, and what we will eat more of in the future, whether we like it or not. Though many small farmers decry its practice of patenting its seed varieties (which means that they must be purchased anew each year instead of being saved from season to season) and enforcing its patents with "seed police" and aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto also introduced a series of webisodes this past year called "American Farmers," which seem to celebrate the importance of family farms.

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/Corbis

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#8. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States and Dietary Activist
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#8. Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States and Dietary Activist
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In 2009, she turned the spotlight on healthy, locally grown fruit and vegetables simply by planting (partly with her own hands) a White House garden on the South Lawn. The plot, from which 1,000 pounds of food were harvested that first year, was expanded by 400 square feet in 2010. It is a living, growing symbol of the First Lady’s "Let’s Move" campaign, an effort to make school food healthier and to reduce childhood obesity to 5 percent by 2030. And when the White House speaks, people listen. Sometimes they even like what they hear. During 2011, the first lady succeeded in urging a host of major casual chain restaurants, including Olive Garden and Red Lobster, to revamp their menus to include healthier meal options. Oh, and let’s not forget that she also has plans to publish a gardening book, called American Grown, in the spring that explores the benefits of having access to fresh, affordable food and the impact on American communities. Mrs. Obama was also awarded a James Beard Leadership Award in October.

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Kevin Allen/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#7. Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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#7. Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
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A federal food safety veteran, Taylor seemed a wise choice in early 2009 to lead a government agency that has been under fire following scores of lethal food contamination cases and food recalls. In January of 2011, President Obama passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which entrusts Taylor and his agency with carrying out new regulations, and also gives the FDA more authority to direct safety and recall policies and review the procedures of food-producing firms. The resulting prevention-based strategy represents one of the most far-reaching reforms of food safety law in the past 70 years.

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USFDA

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#6. Jim Skinner, Vice Chairman and CEO, McDonald’s
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#6. Jim Skinner, Vice Chairman and CEO, McDonald’s
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Skinner, who started at McDonald's as a management trainee, holds the reins at the world's largest hamburger chain by far (58 million served — daily!). Over the years, the Golden Arches have changed American eating habits (if not necessarily for the better) in countless ways, introduced millions of customers to radicchio and baby lettuces, revolutionized the breakfast sandwich, and brought fresh-fruit smoothies to a whole new audience. McDonald's buys almost $1 billion worth of American beef annually, and is the largest purchaser of apples in the U.S.

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Walgreen-Co./Newscom/PR Newswire

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#5. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo.
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#5. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo.
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PepsiCo claims to own the world’s largest portfolio of food and beverage brands, including more than 19 different product lines with sub-brands such as Frito-Lay, Quaker, Pepsi-Cola, Tropicana, and Gatorade. Since being named to her current position as head of PepsiCo in 2006, Nooyi was named Fortune’s "most powerful woman" five years in a row (she placed second in 2011). PepsiCo. has announced plans to introduce sustainable packaging this year, including a new line of eco-friendly bottles.

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Newscom/Newscom/PR Newswire

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#4. Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart
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#4. Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart
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Whether you love it or love to hate it, you simply cannot deny that Walmart has a lot of weight to throw around. It is not only the world’s largest grocer — think of all that purchasing power — but is also, you may be surprised to learn, the nation's number one customer for organic foods. That said, it has also lobbied strenuously to loosen the legal definition of "organic" so that more products can bear that label. Still, since becoming CEO in 2009, Duke has made a commitment to have the company purchase more locally grown produce and instituted a program of sourcing sustainably grown produce. In 2011, Walmart has continued to expand growth in online shopping and consumer purchasing.

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Newscom/PR Newswire

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#3. Jeremy Stoppelman, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Yelp
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#3. Jeremy Stoppelman, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Yelp
Description

Yes, there are shills and sham reviews, and of course Yelpers mouth off on much more than restaurants and food products, but contributors to this spirited site have written more than 22 million local restaurant reviews, and Yelp has been racking up more than 60 million monthly unique visits. For an ever-increasing percentage of American restaurant-goers, this is the place to go before going out. The experience is enhanced with photos, rankings, and opportunities for restaurants to fire back.

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Michael Reynolds/epa/Corbis

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#1. Brooke Johnson, President, Food Network
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#1. Brooke Johnson, President, Food Network
Description

Food Network changed our culinary landscape. It didn't invent celebrity chefs, but it gave them greater celebrity and created them by the bushel — in the process turning "chef" into a viable (or at least imaginable) career choice for we shudder to think how many viewers. (Without it, Rachael Ray would still be selling gourmet groceries, Guy Fieri would still be dishing out garlic fries. We can dream, can't we?) It introduced us to the concepts of competitive cooking and exotic food-based travel. And its influence extends beyond its own confines — without Food Network, there would be no Top Chef or The Chew. Co-owned by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Tribune Company, Food Network is said to be watched in more than 90 million households. Brooke Johnson was named Food Network president in 2004 and is now in charge of it all, including the Cooking Channel and a family of top-rated web sites.

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Food Network

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#23. Dan Bane, Chairman and CEO, Trader Joe’s
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#23. Dan Bane, Chairman and CEO, Trader Joe’s
Description

With 365 stores nationwide in 31 states and counting Trader Joes still stands alone in its style of savvy retailing. From its "Two-Buck Chuck" house wines (now right-sized to "Three-Buck Chuck") to its award-winning (and extremely original) frozen food section to its great selection of and palatable prices for oft-pricey staples like cheese, coffee, and nuts, it remains a grocery original. Its Southern California fresh market roots have stuck (there is a famous Trader Joe's list of ingredients the chain won't accept in products they sell), and it has expanded the culinary vocabulary of a widespread customer base. Along the way, it has made food shopping rather fun.

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YouTube/Teachers At Home/ Flickr/Joe+Jeanette-Archie

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#15. Craig Jelinek, CEO, Costco
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#15. Craig Jelinek, CEO, Costco
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With Costco since 1984 and most recently its president and COO, Jelinek succeeded company founder James Sinegal as CEO this January. Jelinek has every intention of keeping things pretty much the same, he told The Seattle Times. Costco has made quality name-brand products, food and drink prominently among them, accessible to a wide clientele through bulk purchasing. Fresh and packaged foods account for 32 percent of Costco's annual net sales, with "sundries," including candy, snack foods, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, accounting for another 23 percent. "One of the things people will always have to do is eat," says Jelinek. "I don't see that changing."

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Anthony-Bolante--Greenpeace

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#45. Arturo Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers
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#45. Arturo Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers
Description

At a time when the collective bargaining power of unions of all kinds across America is being challenged, a strong leader like Arturo Rodriguez has helped keep the UFW alive and actively pursuing its mission of protecting immigrant workers from exploitation and improving working conditions in the fields where so much of our food is grown. Rodriguez first joined César Chávez’s union in 1969 as a university student and has remained a dedicated employee ever since. Since taking over as president after Chávez's death in 1993, Rodriguez has had many accomplishments, among them gaining passage of a law requiring a neutral party to oversee the negotiation of farm workers’ contracts, and the implementation of agreements guaranteeing farm workers' rights with the country’s largest dairy producers and strawberry farms.

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United Farm Workers

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#2. Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
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#2. Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Description

As the organization that oversees the countrys food safety systems and sets nutritional guidelines, the USDA plays a vital role in how we perceive and interact with food. Since becoming the agency's secretary in early 2009, Vilsack has worked to help support economic recovery by focusing on agricultural infrastructure and renewable energy sources for farms. He has also made the fight against childhood obesity a priority, teaming up with Michelle Obama (see #8) on programs designed to raise awareness of the importance of exercise and nutrition. This past year, Vilsack spearheaded the USDAs revision of the emblematic Food Pyramid by unveiling the new MyPlate guidelines.

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Wikimedia Commons/BotMultiChillT

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#37. Jane Goldman, Vice President and General Manager, CHOW
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#37. Jane Goldman, Vice President and General Manager, CHOW
Description

Even the rise of Yelp (see #3) hasnt been able to squash Web 1.0's big food play, Chowhound, the message boards founded by Jim Leff in 1997 and sold to CNET Networks in 2006. Chowhound's redesign and merger with CHOW magazine, which now includes the site under its umbrella, has reframed page after page of fanatical food queries, arguments, and declarations about the virtues and perils of everything from Mark Bittman's no-knead bread to a meal at Wo Hop in New York's Chinatown, enhanced by the addition of audio and video content. It remains by far the most vigorous online forum for passionate food people.

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Jane Goldman

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#24. Grant Achatz, Chef-Restaurateur
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#24. Grant Achatz, Chef-Restaurateur
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It's been a great year for Achatz, already esteemed for his Chicago gastronomic shrine, Alinea. He launched the most innovative new restaurant concept in the country, Next, with an entirely different themed menu (Paris 1906, contemporary Thai, childhood) every three months and a concert-ticket approach to reservations; he published a well-reviewed memoir, Life, on the Line; and he won a handful of fresh accolades, including being named The Daily Meals American Chef of the Year. There are other cutting-edge chefs in this country, but Achatz is solidifying his position as the chef other chefs watch, easing into the position of influence and authority held internationally by his mentor Ferran Adri whose dishes at the now-shuttered elBulli will be the focus of the next Next menu.

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Getty Images

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#25. Catherine M. Cassidy, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Taste of Home Media Group
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#25. Catherine M. Cassidy, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Taste of Home Media Group
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Taste of Home, a publication based on reader-supplied recipes, has the largest circulation of any food magazine in the country 3.2 million, nearly two-and-a-half times what its nearest competitors boast. In addition, under Cassidy's guiding hand, its various cookbooks, like the new edition of the Taste of Home Bake Book, have sold more than 9 million copies, its web site and app are incredibly popular with readers, and its pop-up cooking schools attract more than 300,000 attendees annually. Sure, these folks affect the way America cooks and eats.

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Taste of Home Media Group