America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food for 2013 Slideshow

50) The Family Farmer

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The family farmers of America — by which we mean the multi-farm entrepreneurs and small-scale independent operators who actually get their hands dirty in American soil — ought to be number one on our list. No one — no distributor or retailer of food, no pesticide manufacturer, no writer or chef or food-themed crusader — ought to have more influence ultimately than the men and women who actually grow our fruits and vegetables and raise our livestock. Indeed, an astonishing 87 percent of the farms in the country are owned by individuals or couples who operate them. Only 3 percent of our farms, in contrast, are what would qualify as agribusiness — but they produce more than a third of what we eat and lobby for their interests far more strenuously than small farmers can do. Agribusiness dominates agriculture. According to Farm Aid, more than 300 family farmers leave their land every week — little wonder when you realize that only a quarter of American farms bring in annual gross revenues of more than $50,000. Farmers also complain about government harassment and nitpicking enforcement of regulations. The recent nine-month extension of the Farm Bill hasn't helped matters. Though subsidies remain in force, rural redevelopment programs, disaster relief, and soil and water conservation measures have been cut or blocked. The family farmer seems increasingly powerless. We'd love to see that situation change. We'd love to see family farmers back where they belong.

49) Deb Perelman, Author

Food bloggers take heart: Perelman's book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, spun off from her blog of the same name, is a smash hit, making its first appearance on The New York Times "Advice & Misc." best-seller list in the number two position when it was published in October, and still (as this is written) on the list in the 11th slot. Accessible and engaging as her cooking advice might be, though, it isn't Perelman's accounts of her "fearless cooking from a tiny kitchen in New York City" (as she describes her blog's subject matter) that makes her a powerful figure in the food world. It's that her signal success will only inspire more home cooks to take up blogging and more bloggers to take up trying to get book contracts. Will this result in more commonsense cookbooks out there? We can only hope so.

48) Bill Marler, Foodborne Illness Lawyer and Attorney

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.

47) Michael Pollan, Author

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.  

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

The vocal head of this increasingly high-profile organization, Newkirk declared 2012 a banner year in animal rights; thanks largely to PETA influence, Starbucks promised to use a plant-based colorant instead of insect extracts in its drinks; several restaurant chains, including Subway, added vegan options to their menus; and NASCAR venues started serving veggie dogs in addition to less PETA-friendly fare. 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.

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

It's no secret that the food of the American South is hot these days. Chefs like Sean Brock, Frank Stitt, Norman Van Aken, John Besh, Hugh Acheson, and Linton Hopkins, among others, are national culinary celebrities. Genuine barbecue and other Southern food traditions are now found far beyond their home regions. New cookbooks with a Southern theme come out constantly. It is impossible not to acknowledge Edge as having had a major influence on this Southern ascendancy. The Southern Foodways Alliance, part of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, has done more to document, assess, and promote the region's genuine culinary traditions than any other organization. Edge has also written many books on Southern (and other regional American) foods, edited the Cornbread Nation series (anthologies of Southern food writing), written countless columns for everything from The New York Times to Garden & Gun, and appeared regularly on "All Things Considered." If you've got some South in your mouth, Edge quite possibly had something to do with it.

44) Danny Meyer, Restaurateur

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 17 of them and counting, on the Eastern Seaboard, in Florida, and in the Middle East — it has served as a model for other chefs to serve quality food in a low-end context.  

43) Guy Fieri, Chef–Restaurateur and TV Personality

It's not his latest effort for Food Network, Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off, that earns the flamboyant Fieri his place on this list, and it certainly isn't his restaurants (one of which, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, earned him a withering review from Pete Wells in The New York Times but still has lines of willing customers out the door). It's his long-running cholesterol-fueled road-trip show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which has turned the spotlight on well over 500 casual eating places around the country — barbecue and burger joints, pizza parlors, taco stands, and other, well, dives, drive-ins, and diners (at least some of them deserving of his praise) — and in so doing has helped remind us of the culinary richness (in more than one sense) of the American landscape.

42) Susan Ungaro, President, James Beard Foundation

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 last year 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.

41) Tom Colicchio, Chef-Restaurateur and TV Personality

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. His new YouTube web series "Hooked Up," a low-key fishing-with-Tom affair, probably won't raise his visibility very much to the outside world, but it's a reminder that he can still be just plain folks when he's not holding the fate of aspiring chefs in his hands. Colicchio is also an incredibly accomplished chef and the proprietor of a successful dining empire, with fine dining establishments like Craft, which celebrates its 12th anniversary this year, as well as the ‘wichcraft upscale sandwich shops, now found all over the U.S.

40. Thomas Keller, Chef-Restaurateur

Winner of the San Pellegrino Lifetime Achievement Award last year, Keller is one of the most respected chefs 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.

39) Mark Bittman, Journalist and Author

With New York Times Op-Ed pieces like "Stop Subsidizing Obesity," "Dietary Seat Belts," 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.

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

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.

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

When DeLuca and business partner Dr. 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 38,000 Subways in 100 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.

36) Wolfgang Puck, Chef–Restaurateur

This protean Austrian-born culinary personality, given the James Beard Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award last year, was quite possibly the first real cross-media celebrity chef in the country. His famous smiling face has become an instantly recognizable trademark all over America. He more or less created California cuisine and can lay fair claim to having invented Asian fusion food. He has also opened a multitude of eateries around the country, from sophisticated restaurants to airport to-gos, and remains one of the most popular icons in the frozen food section. New York Magazine book reviewer Jacob Rubin once wrote of author Kurt Vonnegut that "his influence is so ubiquitous as to be invisible." The same might well be said of Puck.

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

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 2012, Shore forged an alliance with the National Restaurant Association that he expects will triple funds for No Kid Hungry. 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.

34) Grant Achatz, Chef–Restaurateur

Another 2012 inductee into Who's Who in Food & Beverage in America (and The Daily Meal's 2011 American Chef of the Year), Achatz remains one of the country's most influential chefs and restaurateurs. His Chicago gastronomic shrine, Alinea, continues to be one of the best restaurants in the country, with his innovative newer place, Next, close behind. The unique ticketing (as opposed to reservation) system he pioneered may represent the wave of the future for high-end dining, and his willingness to rethink traditional restaurant practices — as with his autumn "swap" with Daniel Humm of New York's Eleven Madison Park, in which his team served Alinea's food in Manhattan and Humm offered Chicagoans a taste of New York — inspires chefs all over the country.

33) Anthony Bourdain, Author and TV Personality

Bourdain's lurid backstage restaurant memoir, Kitchen Confidentialrepublished in an "Insider's Edition" last fall — 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. He went on to become by far the most visible non-cooking culinary figure on television with his shows on Travel Channel. Now he has jumped ship to co-host ABC-TV's competition food show The Taste with his female British sex-symbol counterpart, Nigella Lawson — and his new CNN series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown debuts shortly. Through his various endeavors, 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.  

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

The James Beard Foundation finally recognized Cowin's considerable contributions to the culinary world last year 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. 

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

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.

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

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 — 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.

29) Bob Aiken, President and CEO, Feeding America

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. In 2012, the organization declared September "Hunger Action Month" to promote awareness of the fact that an estimated 49 million Americans don't have enough to eat.

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

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.

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

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. 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 water usage.

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

Wikimedia Commons/Sprew, USC

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, oft-pricey staples like cheese, coffee, and nuts, Trader Joe's remains a grocery original. With 365 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.

 

25. Mario Batali, Chef–Restaurateur and TV Personality

Celebrity chef as soap opera star? Not exactly, but this ebullient red-headed, orange-Croc-wearing culinary personality heads up The Chew, an ABC-TV prime daytime offering that took the place, about a year-and-a-half ago, of the long-running soap All My Children. And along with co-hosts Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, and Daphne Oz, Batali has helped prove 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 his ever-expanding Eataly market/eatery concept, 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 pretty stellar.

24) Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States

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 last year. 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. 

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

Wikimedia Commons/ Edward

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. Whole Foods has almost 350 stores in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and did $11.7 billion in sales last year. Mackey is a prominent Libertarian, and has been criticized for opposing 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.

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

Yelpers mouth off on much more than restaurants and food products, but contributors to this spirited site have written more than 33 million local restaurant reviews, and Yelp has been racking up more than 83 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. 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. Yelp's big competition in the online restaurant rating game is Zagat, owned by Google, and Yelp has complained that, since buying Zagat, Google has favored its own listings in search results.

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

Kroger and its subsidiaries form the nation’s largest grocery store chain, its second-largest general retailer in terms of revenue, and the fourth-largest such retailer in the world. It operates more than 3,600 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.

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

This increasingly 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 last year 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). Unlike its counterpart Pinterest, Instagram doesn't yet offer click-through on images, so it functions more as a purely inspirational visual platform — but inspire it does.

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

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 government, support political candidates (most recently Barack Obama), 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. "This is just the beginning of a new era for America's workers," he has said.

18) José Andrés, Chef-Restaurateur

This ceaselessly energetic Galician-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 new 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 recently named The Daily Meal's 2012 American Chef of the Year.

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

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.

16) Paul Grimwood, CEO and Chairman, Nestlé USA

Founded as the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in 1866, Nestlé is today the largest food company in the world in terms of revenue. Among its many brands in the U.S. are Nespresso, Nescafé, Coffee-Mate, Shredded Wheat, Stouffer's, Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisine, Gerber, PowerBar, Toll House Cookies, Raisinets, After Eight, three top brands of ice cream (Edy's, Dreyer's, and Häagen-Dazs), and, well, Alpo. It also owns the Jenny Craig weight loss program and, through its Nestlé Waters division, gives us much of our bottled water, under such labels as Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Acqua Panna, Perrier, and Vittel. Grimwood, who moved into his position in August of last year (he was formerly Nestlé's man in the U.K. and Ireland), presides over the U.S. operations of a company whose products are probably found in almost every American home where there's a baby, a dog, a caffeine addict, or a sweets lover — which seems to have it pretty well covered.

15) David Kirchhoff, CEO, Weight Watchers International

Called the number one weight-loss plan in the world, this nearing-50-and-never-looked-better 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. 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, Jessica Simpson), keep Weight Watchers on top and in shape.

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

Whoever holds this job is, ipso facto, the most powerful restaurant reviewer in the country. Wells has quickly and 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 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.

13) Craig Jelinek, CEO, Costco

Costco is now a TV star (see CNBC's Inside the Warehouse Giant), as well as being one of America's top three retail chains (and the world's largest membership warehouse operation). Under Jelinek, 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."

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

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, Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off, 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 more than 90 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.

11) Donnie Smith, President and CEO, Tyson Foods

If you eat chicken in America, you almost certainly 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.

10) Thomas Vilsack, Secretary, USDA

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 #24) on programs designed to raise awareness about the importance of exercise and nutrition. Two years ago, Vilsack spearheaded the USDA's revision of the emblematic Food Pyramid by unveiling the new MyPlate guidelines; last year, he announced a $6.1 million program to create economic opportunities (i.e., jobs) in seven states — part of his agency's Rural Development mission.

9) Gregory Page, Chairman and CEO, Cargill

Now 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 2012, it deployed more than $4 billion in capital investments, acquiring such enterprises as Corporación Pipasa, a major meat and poultry processor in Central America, and the newly privatized Canadian Wheat Board. 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.

8) Ben Silbermann, Founder and CEO, Pinterest

Three 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 more than 25 million unique visitors per month. 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.

7) Donald Thompson, Vice Chairman and CEO, McDonald's

Taking over from the retiring Jim Skinner in July of last year, 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.

6) Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo

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 and 2012). While Nooyi has spearheaded new lines of nutrition-conscious products (like stevia-sweetened orange juice and reduced-fat potato chips), stockholders are reportedly unhappy with her efforts in the soft drink field, where Pepsi has lost market share to its longtime rival Coca-Cola.

5) Mike Duke, President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

In the supermarket world, Duke is number one, at least according to Supermarket News's 2012 Power 50 ranking. And no wonder. 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. Still, since becoming CEO in 2009, Duke has made a commitment to have the company purchase more locally grown and sustainably grown produce.

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

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 six in CNN's 2012 list of the 50 most powerful women in business, Woertz has brought ADM to record financial results — its 2011 revenues were $81 billion — while growing its sourcing, transportation, and processing networks through select acquisitions.

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

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. Let's hope for the best.  

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

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 last year? 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 many other substances, including, in the past though not currently, recombinant bovine growth hormone), 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,” and it 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.  

  

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

Wikimedia Commons/raidoriva10; Jack Manzel

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 Hernández 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.