The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food

These women are at the top of the food world

Alice Waters introduced a whole generation of Americans to the very notion of organic and locally sourced food.

Food is power, or at least an instrument of power — economic, political, moral. Those who control our food supply have significant influence over our lives, for better or worse. They decide, to a greater extent than we know, what and how we eat — and even if we eat, in extreme cases. Every year since 2011, we’ve set out to identify the most powerful people in the food world, and today we’re recognizing the top 11 women.

The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food (Slideshow)

When we talk about power, in this context, we're talking about the ability to make things happen, rewrite the rules, shift the paradigms, change the conversation. We're talking about power that is governmental, commercial, and sometimes inspirational. The men and women who wield this power till many fields; they're agribusiness moguls, CEOs of major food processing and distribution concerns and retail food outlets, elected or appointed officials who concern themselves with the economics and the safety of our food supply, celebrity chefs and other public figures who start trends and speak up for what they believe, and activists and journalists who try, with varying degrees of success, to improve conditions under which food is raised or processed and to influence the menus from which we select our meals.

In order to create our ranking, we assembled a long initial roster, then graded each nominee on five criteria: the number of people the candidate reaches, the number of venues through which the candidate can reach people, past accomplishments, potential for future accomplishments, and proven ability to reach and influence people through their actions. The final results demonstrate that while there most definitely aren’t nearly as many women in places of power as there should be (run a Google image search for “CEO” and the first female that comes up is CEO Barbie), those who have made it to the top prove on a daily basis that the glass ceiling was made to be broken.

Every year, when we publish this ranking, we hear from readers outraged that we would "honor" this or that person, whether a corporate honcho or a nannyish naysayer. And every year, we answer that this is not necessarily a ranking of our favorite people, or of those we consider to be most admirable. Food policies and the food choices available to us in America are all too often affected by people whose organizations or philosophies we do not find admirable in the least. They know who they are.

#11 Ingrid Newkirk, President and Co-Founder, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The vocal head of this increasingly high-profile organization, Newkirk led the company to another banner year in 2014. The World Trade organization upheld the EU’s ban on seal fur imports with PETA’s help, their wool industry exposé has been viewed nearly 4 million times, and their relentless campaigning against cruelty at SeaWorld has educated millions. The group's ever-widening influence on government agencies and courts demonstrates the power that it has harnessed through its sometimes controversial awareness campaigns.

#10 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 her parents’ nonprofit, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (as in Hewlett-Packard, or HP). 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. 


Additional reporting by Colman Andrews.