America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2014 (Slideshow)
Nierenberg and Gustafson, two longtime food activists, launched The Food Tank in January 2013 with one mission: to find a way to fix the world’s broken food system. By organizing events that bring together farmers, businesses, workers, nonprofits, local activists, academics, policy-makers, industry, journalists, community organizations, the funding and donor communities, and everyone else in the food world under one roof, they hope that they can get the conversation started and work toward a perfect worldwide food system. "The question that’s been asked historically has been, 'How can we grow more food?'" Gustafson told us last year. "When in reality what we should be asking is, 'How do we develop agricultural systems to get people to eat healthy? Foods with a low disease rate, a good environmental outcome, and long-term yields." The answers won’t come easy, but if anyone ever had the knowledge and wherewithal to seek them out, it’s these two.
The Food Tank
Adam Rapoport spent a decade as Style Editor at GQ Magazine before taking the helm of Conde Nast’s second-largest-circulation magazine in 2010, and in an era when everything is going digital, he’s keeping things fresh, relevant, and fun. Under his reign, they’ve brought on board more celebrity contributors, launched rankings like The 20 Most Important Restaurants in America, debuted gorgeous new apps, and expanded their digital presence, all while spreading the gospel of cooking, dining, shopping, and having a ball doing it.
Until recently, if you wanted to order dinner delivery you had to actually pick up the phone and call the restaurant. What an antiquated approach! Within the past few years, two new companies brought the whole process online: Grubhub and Seamless. These enterprises merged in August 2013, with menu resources Menupages and Allmenus under their umbrella as well. Today, more than 26,500 restaurants in 600+ cities are connected digitally to their customer base, and Matt Maloney, GrubHub co-founder, is at the helm as CEO. In 2012, Maloney was named CEO of the Year at Built in Chicago’s first annual Moxie Awards, and in 2013 Seamless’ app won Best in Show at MediaPost’s Appy Awards. It’s a brave new world out there when it comes to ordering dinner, and GrubHub Seamless’ appetite for disruption is making the transition simple and fun.
An accomplished personal injury and products liability attorney, Marler has been litigating foodborne illness cases since 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously sickened 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. He also helps keep us in the loop with his blog, which he updates on a near-daily basis.
When former line cook Steve Ells opened the first Chipotle in Denver, Colo. In 1993, there was no way he could have imagined what a powerful voice in the culinary world he would have 21 years later. With more than 1,500 locations worldwide, Chipotle’s offerings are not only consistently ranked as the most delicious around, they also demonstrate that fast food doesn’t need to be sourced irresponsibly. Meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free, dairy cows are pasture-raised, and in 2013 Ells got into the GMO fray, labeling all genetically modified ingredients on the online menu and vowing to phase out all genetically modified ingredients in 2014, even if it meant increasing prices. With Ells at the helm, Chipotle is blazing a trail into a more responsibly-sourced future.
Gina Le Vay
Colicchio's gig hosting Bravo's Top Chef has made him one of the most visible restaurant figures in the country, and the show has helped bring both veteran and novice chefs into the living rooms and onto the computer screens of individuals who don’t even watch Food Network. Colicchio is also an incredibly accomplished chef and the proprietor of a successful dining empire, with fine dining establishments like Craft, which celebrates its 13th anniversary this year, as well as the ‘wichcraft upscale sandwich shops, now in its 10th year and found all over the U.S.
The most important food magazine most big-city food lovers have likely never heard of, Taste of Home, a publication based on reader-supplied recipes, has a circulation of 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 Baking Book, have sold more than 9 million copies, its website 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.
Taste of Home
The vocal head of this increasingly high-profile organization, Newkirk led the company to another banner year in 2013, which saw the shutdown of Harvard’s Primate Research Center; a school in Queens, N.Y. becoming the nation’s first entirely meat-free public school; Bill Gates funding the development of vegan meat and eggs; and glue insect traps taken off the shelves in thousands of stores. The group's ever-widening influence on government agencies and courts demonstrates the power that the group has harnessed through its sometimes controversial awareness campaigns.
With New York Times Op-Ed pieces like "Americans Need to Eat at Home More Often," How to Make Noise About Antibiotics," and "Pesticides: Now More Than Ever," this stunningly prolific food journalist reaches a large audience of tastemakers, and will surely help influence the national discourse on issues of food politics. He also continues to turn out well-received cookbooks, and contributes a regular recipe spread to the Times' Sunday magazine. A TV series based on his long-running but now defunct Times column "The Minimalist" is in the works. When Bittman talks — as he does, a lot — food-loving Americans listen.
In 2002, Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian founded Edible Communities, Inc., and today, it’s the nation’s largest publishing company dedicated to the local foods movement. There are currently 80 individual titles across North America, in markets including Manhattan, Boston, San Francisco, and Vancouver, with 10 more being added yearly. There’s no other print outlet giving so much attention to local food artisans, chefs, farmers, fishermen, and other culinary tastemakers, raising them up to heroic status through in-depth interviews and stunning photography. You may think that the local food movement began to take hold nationally only a few years ago, but Ryder was right there at the vanguard. Last year publishing veteran Eric Thorkilsen bought a controlling stake in the company and was brought on as CEO, and today the magazines reach 1.4 million people. They recently launched a website, Edible Feast, to feature the best content from across all their properties.
The James Beard Foundation finally recognized Cowin's considerable contributions to the culinary world in 2012 by inducting her into the Who's Who in Food & Beverage in America. 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.
Nutritionally conscious when nutritional consciousness wasn't cool, Waters introduced a whole generation of Americans to the very notion of organic and locally sourced food even as she helped to popularize the cooking of her beloved Provence and other Mediterranean regions. Waters' most recent influence can be seen in the growing awareness of childhood nutrition through her foundation, The Edible Schoolyard Project. 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 and quickly bounced back from a devastating fire last year — 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. Waters has long been a driving force in the restaurant world, and is increasingly one in the political sphere as well.
The NRA that has been in the news a lot lately isn't this one (alas) — but as the country's main food-service lobbying organization, the National Restaurant Association represents more than 380,000 establishments around the country, 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 — while meanwhile opposing Obamacare and efforts to raise the minimum wage.
Keller is arguably the most respected chef in the country. Only a small number of people every year have the privilege of dining at his 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, but the precision and integrity with which Keller organizes and runs all his kitchens, upscale and casual alike, has positively impacted the entire restaurant industry in America.
Ungaro became president of this organization in 2006, after it was shaken by an embezzlement scandal. Since then, the nonprofit 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. The Boy Scouts of America gave Ungaro their Distinguished Citizen Award in 2012 in recognition of her work with students who wish to pursue a culinary education; Ungaro had the moxie (and good sense) to refuse the honor because of the Scouts' anti-gay policies.
Meyer's restaurants — among them Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, Maialino, North End Grill, and The Modern — number among New York City’s top dining destinations. He has also helped raise standards of restaurant service through his rigorous training programs (a Meyer establishment on a résumé is, for would-be managers, the equivalent of a Keller restaurant for would-be chefs), and even written a non-restaurant-specific book called Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. Then, of course, there's the Shake Shack effect. Not only has the immensely popular burger mini-empire continued expanding — there are now more than 40 of them and counting worldwide— it has served as a model for other chefs to serve quality food in a low-end context.
A frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and numerous other publications, as well as the author of best-selling, dialogue-inducing books like the James Beard Award-winning Omnivore’s Dilemma and an updated edition of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, Pollan remains a leading voice in the national discussion about where our food comes from and how it is produced. No conversation about modern commercial foodways and the American agricultural system would be complete without mention of this best-selling author.
This national restaurant industry-centered nonprofit, whose ambitious goal is nothing less than ending childhood hunger in America, has long partnered 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. In 2013, Shore partnered with chef Tom Colicchio and filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush to help promote A Place at the Table, a film that shines a light on hunger in America. SOS also raises money for its programs 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.
Share Our Strength
From its "Two-Buck Chuck" house wines (now right-sized to "Three-Buck Chuck") and other wine and beer bargains — in states where grocery-store sales of alcohol are allowed — to its award-winning (and highly original) frozen food section to its great selection of, and palatable prices for, usually expensive staples like cheese, coffee, and nuts, Trader Joe's remains a grocery original. With 408 stores nationwide in 30-plus states and counting, Trader Joe's still stands alone in its style of savvy retailing. 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.
Trader Joe's, flickr/ scarlatti2004
The nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, Feeding America has as its mission providing nutritional sustenance to the variously disenfranchised around the country through a nationwide network of more than 200 member food banks. It also seeks to engage all of us, both individually and on a governmental level, in the fight to end hunger. Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million people annually, a 46 percent increase from 2006.
When we decide that we want to eat organic, sustainable, and/or "natural" foods, where do we get them — especially if we live in a part of the country where farmers' markets only operate a day or two a week, and are seasonal at that? Whole Foods? Well, sure, but where does Whole Foods get the stuff? In large part probably from UNFI, the country's largest distributor of natural products, edible and otherwise. UNFI distributes brands like Amy's, Organic Valley, Green & Black's, Muir Glen, Hain Celestial, Cascadian Farm, Annie's, Kashi, Back to Nature, Stonyfield Yogurt, American Flatbread, and many more not just to Whole Foods but to supermarkets, natural food outlets, and food co-ops all over America and in Canada and 40-plus other countries. Its Albert's Organics division is the nation's leading distributor of quality organic produce and other perishables, and UNFI also runs the Earth Origins market chain on the East Coast. If you're looking to eat green, in other words, UNFI will be glad to help.
Packard, a marine biologist, has run this showplace aquarium since it was opened in 1984 with an endowment from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (as in Hewlett-Packard, or HP) — the Packards being her parents. 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 website, and an app) of sustainable choices in fish and shellfish, thus impacting the seafood marketplace from coast to coast. The Aquarium also hosts an annual Sustainable Foods Institute, addressing such issues as global food security, urban agriculture, and innovations in aquaculture.
Whole Foods has changed the buying and eating habits of a generation or more and encouraged the development of new businesses, large and small, to satisfy its increasingly health- and environment-conscious clientele. The company has more than 360 stores in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and did $12.9 billion in sales last year. Mackey is a prominent Libertarian, and has been criticized for criticizing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, opposing unionization of his stores, pooh-poohing global warming, and carrying GMO products. On the other hand, he has also led the chain into establishing an Animal Welfare Rating System for all meat sold in the stores, made efforts to greatly increase the proportion of sustainable seafood Whole Foods sells, and launched the Whole Kids Foundation, an organization that partners with schools and educators to make healthy food available in schools.
flickr/ Gage Skidmore
Called the number-one weight-loss plan in the world, this 50-and-never-looked-better company, now operating in about 30 countries, promotes the elementary idea that eating healthier, getting more exercise, and having a good support system is the best way to drop the pounds. Weight Watchers continues to soar in an oversaturated market of gimmicks and trends. Its PointsPlus and new 360 systems as well as celebrity jaw-dropping successes (we're talking to you, Jennifer Hudson), keep Weight Watchers on top and in shape.
The dynamic duo of chef Mario Batali and his business partner restaurateur Joe Bastianich are on fire. The ebullient red-headed, orange-Croc-wearing culinary personality heads up The Chew, an ABC-TV prime daytime offering proving that there's a place for food shows on non-food channels. This isn't the only way that Batali is changing our perceptions about what is probably the world's most popular cuisine — and about food in general. Whether he's dispensing the secrets of soulful Italian cooking, promoting their ever-expanding Eataly market/eatery concept (which recently opened its second U.S. outpost in Chicago), or just offering his insights on culinary culture, we’re pretty sure we’ll be hearing a lot from him for a long time to come. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that his dozen-plus restaurants, run in partnership with "restaurant man" Joe Bastianich, are mostly stellar.
Ken Goodman, Cass Bird
The world's largest producer of fruits and vegetables, Dole operates in more than 90 countries, marketing bananas, pineapples (fresh and packaged), grapes, strawberries, and salads, along with all manner of other fresh and frozen fruits and juices. In 2013, billionaire David Murdock bought the company for $1.2 billion, taking it private. The 90-year-old Murdock previously brought the company back from near-bankruptcy in 1985, has been committed to finding a cure for cancer, and founded the Dole Nutrition Institute to advocate the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.
This insanely popular photo-sharing and social networking site, which adds the frosting of a photo manipulation system that allows users to apply various special effects to their images (doubtless rescuing countless lousy shots by turning them arty), must be doing something right: Facebook bought them in 2012 for about $1 billion. Instagram lets people make restaurant discoveries and get cooking ideas based on what their friends and networks are experiencing — and taking pictures of (each picture being, as we all know, worth a whole passel of words).
Four years ago, nobody had heard of Pinterest — because it didn't exist. Launching (in closed beta) in March of 2010, it became the fastest-growing website in Internet history; today it logs 2.5 billion monthly pageviews. A photo-sharing website that lets users "pin" their own collections of images according to themes, Pinterest leads all other image-sharing sites in both consumer awareness and visits — and one of the most popular categories, along with DYI and crafts and women's apparel, is food and drink. Pinterest has taken the socialization of these subjects to a new level, becoming an ever-growing source for food and drink information based not on status updates but on a genuine visual/visceral sharing of recipes, food thoughts, restaurant recommendations, and more.
The first lady remains an inspiring figure in the food world. In 2009, she planted (partly with her own hands) a White House garden as a living, growing symbol of her "Let’s Move" campaign, an effort to make school food healthier and to reduce childhood obesity to 5 percent by 2030. American Grown, her book about the gardens (and about gardens, and about herself), with recipes included, was published in 2012. One of its themes is the impact on communities of having access to fresh, affordable food. If the presidency is, as Teddy Roosevelt once proposed, "a bully pulpit," being the president's mate has power of its own, and we love that Mrs. Obama is using at least some of it to improve the way America eats and thinks about eating.
Kroger and its subsidiaries form the nation’s largest grocery store chain and its second-largest general retailer in terms of revenue, and the fourth-largest such retail operation in the world. It operates more than 3,800 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. And with the recent acquisition of eastern chain Harris Teeter and a seamless transition to new CEO McMullen, who replaced David Dillon in January, it continues its path to supermarket domination.
When DeLuca and business partner Peter Buck opened Pete's Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Conn., back in 1965 — the name was changed to Subway three years later — they ambitiously projected that they'd have 32 locations in 10 years' time. Today, there are more than 40,000 Subways in 105 countries. It is now the largest single-brand restaurant company in the world, bigger than McDonald's in number of units (a small but increasing number of these are "green" eco-restaurants). In purchasing power and in influencing casual dining trends — among other things, Subway promotes low-fat options and has reduced sodium content across all its products by at least 15 percent — Subway makes a difference.
Food Network didn't invent the TV cooking show, but it invented food television — and changed our culinary landscape in the process. There were celebrity chefs before it ever went on the air, but Food Network gave them greater celebrity and created new ones 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 and Guy Fieri would still be dishing out garlic fries, and one of the network's newest shows, Guy’s Grocery Games, would still just be the kind of thing you had bad dreams about. Co-owned by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Tribune Company, Food Network is said to be watched in approximately 100 million households. The Food Network website and magazine are also leaders in their categories. Tuschman doesn't run Food Network — that's Brooke Johnson, the president — but he's the tastemaker, hiring and firing talent, making and breaking stars, influencing the culinary dialogue daily.
This ceaselessly energetic Asturian-born chef has almost single-handedly introduced Americans to real Spanish food — both avant-garde and traditional — as it is prepared and served in the 21st century, through his restaurants (among them minibar, é by José Andrés, two Bazaars, and four Jaleos, stretching from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles by way of Las Vegas), but also through his cookbooks and TV appearances. Now he has been named Dean of Spanish Studies at Manhattan's International Culinary Center, where he is supervising a one-of-a-kind Spanish cooking curriculum (developed with our own editorial director, Colman Andrews). With his nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen, his activities in Haiti (which include a film project to celebrate that country's gastronomy), and other initiatives, Andrés is also a social activist, reminding fellow chefs of the breadth of their responsibilities to their communities. He was also named The Daily Meal's 2012 American Chef of the Year.
You might not have heard of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but they play more of a role in your life than you may think. The GMA is the world’s largest trade association representing the food, beverage, and consumer products industry. Many of the world’s top food companies are represented, like Con Agra, General Mills, Unilever, Cargill, and Mars, and together they take on big issues: their current battle is over GMO labeling and the right to call foods with GMOs ‘natural.’ As President and CEO, Bailey is the most visible member of the organization, working to deliver its messages to the American people in a clear, concise way that paints the companies the association represents in the best possible light. It’s a tricky job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Taking over from the retiring Jim Skinner in July 2012, Thompson holds the reins at the world's largest hamburger chain by far (69 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 (it is moving increasingly into the chicken marketplace as well) and is the largest purchaser of apples in the U.S. And while it may have made a couple strategic errors in the past year — most notably a flubbed rollout of Mighty Wings — it's hard to imagine that Mickey D’s won't just keep on growing.
Whoever holds this post is, ipso facto, the most powerful restaurant reviewer in the country. Wells has successfully made the job his own, and writes witty, insightful reviews, heavy on the Asian cuisine (but is that necessarily a bad thing?). His weekly assessments of New York (and occasional out-of-town) eating places, like those of his predecessors, can turn them into overnight successes or nudge them toward failure, and the opinions he expresses, by extension, influence chefs and restaurateurs all over America. What he writes next Wednesday will quite possibly be at your local strip mall by November.
Earl Wilson/ NYT
Costco is now one of America's top three retail chains, and the world's largest membership warehouse operation. Under Jelinek, who started his career as a checkout boy, Costco has continued its mission of making 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." Recently, Jelinek has become to poster boy for the efforts to increase the minimum wage, as Costco’s employees start out earning $11.50 an hour.
If you eat chicken in America, you almost certainly 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: It is well known as a generous corporate donor, giving millions to children's charities, family shelters, community parks, and recreation areas.
William J. Delaney has been employed by Sysco, the world’s largest broadline food distributor, for more than 25 years and has been CEO since 2009. Under his management, the company has continued to grow and increase its presence around the world, providing the basic ingredients for food served by hundreds of thousands of restaurants, including many chains. Delaney was instrumental in arranging 2013’s merger with rival US Foods, and when the deal goes through later this year (as it’s expected to), the two companies’ combined revenues will give it a whopping 27% share of the U.S. food distribution market.
The largest privately held corporation of any kind in the United States in terms of revenue, Cargill is an international producer and marketer of food and of agricultural, financial, and industrial products and services. In the last quarter of 2013, it saw a 36 percent rise in profit, putting a silver lining on a rough year defined by a drought-influenced rise in feed costs. Cargill also runs a farmer-training program, and contributes 2 percent of its global consolidated pretax earnings to environmental, educational, and health and nutrition programs around the world.
Yelpers mouth off on much more than restaurants and food products, but contributors to this spirited site have written more than 47 million local restaurant reviews, and Yelp has been racking up more than 117 million monthly unique visits (up from 83 million last year). 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. In answer to accusations of abuse — like restaurants (and other enterprises) paying for positive reviews or pseudonymously denouncing their competitors — the company has increased monitoring activities and aggressively outs offenders. With the recent creation of a political action committee and the hiring of lobbyists, there appears to be no stopping this growing behemoth.
We use Google 75 million times a day, looking, seeking, searching. It's a pretty safe bet that a fair amount of what we're after has to do with recipes or restaurants. (Some observers estimate recipe search at 1 to 2 percent of the total, which would mean that we ask Google for as many as 95 million recipes annually.) This massive search-engine-turned-cultural-phenomenon is the gateway to a whole world of food-related information — an essential first stop for many of us on our way to cooking and eating. Figuring out exactly who's in charge of what at Google isn't easy — you can't just Google it — and in any case the development and constant refining of recipe and other food-related search algorithms and the integration of the massive Zagat restaurant database (which Google acquired in 2011, after failing to buy Yelp) are hardly one-person jobs. We're singling out Menzel and Hall for their considerable contributions in these areas, but also as representatives of a hydra-headed entity that increasingly informs us about food (along with everything else) and offers us pretty much instant access to an endless pool of recipes, cooking tips, restaurant recommendations, chef profiles, foodstuff definitions, and a menu full of other delicious stuff. And with the introduction of an image carousel for restaurant-related search results in July, finding the perfect restaurant just got even easier.
Twitter/ Dan Entin, Gannon Hall
Providing agricultural storage and transportation service and operating more than 265 plants worldwide where cereal grains and oilseeds are processed into products used in the food, beverage, nutraceutical, industrial, and animal feed industries, Archer Daniels Midland has been named three times by Fortune as the world's most admired food production company (among other things, they partner with Feeding America). At the head of the table is Patricia Woertz. Ranked number seven in Fortune’s 2013 list of the 50 most powerful women in business, Woertz has brought ADM to record financial results — its 2012 revenues were $89 billion — while growing its sourcing, transportation, and processing networks through select acquisitions.
flickr/ Fortune Live Media
The Teamsters are a major force in moving food and beverages, and the materials that go into making them, around the country. Besides transport, Teamsters members represent workers who produce and package various kinds of consumable products through their Bakery & Laundry, Brewery & Soft Drink, and Dairy divisions, among others. They also lobby the government, support political candidates (most recently Barack Obama, although Hoffa is not a fan of Obamacare), and influence corporate decisions as stockholders (in, for instance, Coca-Cola). Their strikes affect major supermarkets, food producers, breweries, and other concerns — either protecting the rights of workers or holding management hostage, depending on your point of view, but either way most probably impacting consumer prices. Hoffa — who, yes, is the son of the legendary Jimmy Hoffa, reported to be buried under several tons of concrete somewhere or other — has run the union since 1998. He is bullish on the place of unions in this country, and has recently been outspoken against the merger of food suppliers Sysco and US Foods.
With a portfolio that includes Frito-Lay, Quaker, Pepsi-Cola, Tropicana, Aquafina, and Gatorade, PepsiCo owns what is almost certainly the world’s largest collection of food and beverage brands, including 22 different product lines that each generate more than $1 billion in annual sales. (Their salt and sugar bills must be enormous.) 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, 2012, and 2013). While Nooyi has spearheaded new lines of nutrition-conscious products (like stevia-sweetened orange juice and reduced-fat potato chips), shareholders are reportedly unhappy with her efforts in the soft drink field, where Pepsi has lost market share to its longtime rival Coca-Cola. Still, Nooyi remains adamantly against splitting up their beverage and snack divisions.
Since 1976, when he passed the bar and went to work as a staff attorney for the FDA, Taylor has swung back and forth between government regulatory agencies and the private sector, at one point working for the USDA and for several periods being employed by, er, Monsanto or one of their law firms. Back in officialdom, he has held his present post since 2010. 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. In the past year, he’s launched an investigation of caffeine in food products, helped food producers protect their product from bioterrorism, revised rules in a proposal after listening to feedback from farmers, and worked to protect the public in countless other ways.
Though it sells many other kinds of merchandise as well, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer — and also 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. In February, McMillion will be taking the reins from outgoing CEO Mike Duke, who made a commitment to have the company purchase more local and sustainable produce. With sales slightly in decline, and recent accusations that the company bribed Mexican officials so they could build there, he’ll certainly have a lot on his plate.
Was Grant, as leader of this international biotechnology firm, inconvenienced (or maybe struck by an attack of conscience) as a result of the more than 100 Occupy Monsanto demonstrations staged around the world in 2012? We doubt it. The company, which remains the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds (it is also the manufacturer of Roundup — the most commonly used agricultural pesticide around the world), and which patents its seed varieties (which means that they must be purchased anew each year instead of being saved from season to season), has survived countless protests, lawsuits, and government actions over the years, and we can't imagine that being Occupy-ed would cause much concern. In any case, a rep told us that Grant's corporation “views farmers as the most important people in the food chain.” Monsanto 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. Profits are up for the giant, and the company recently won a Supreme Court battle that allows them to sue farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto seeds, intentionally or not.
Flickr/ World Economic Forum
The USDA plays a vital role in how we perceive and interact with food, overseeing the country's food safety systems and setting nutritional guidelines. 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 #22) on programs designed to raise awareness about the importance of exercise and nutrition. Three years ago, Vilsack spearheaded the USDA's revision of the emblematic Food Pyramid by unveiling the new MyPlate guidelines; in 2012, he announced a $6.1 million program to create jobs in seven states — part of his agency's Rural Development mission; and he’s currently working day and night to make sure that Congress passes a farm bill that benefits every American, and soon.