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The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food

Food is power, or at least an instrument of power -- economic, political, moral.
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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.

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
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Photo Credit: David Shankbone

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

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Photo Credit: Tom O'Neal

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.

#9 Alice Waters, Chef–Restaurateur and Founder and Director, the Edible Schoolyard Project
Nutritionally conscious before nutritional consciousness was 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 created by her foundation, the Edible Schoolyard Project. Even Anthony Bourdain, who once said that Alice Waters annoyed "the living s--t out of [him]," called her a visionary, and described her Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse — which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011 andquickly bounced back from a devastating fire in 2013 — as "inarguably a cradle of the food revolution." Working to "teach, nurture, and empower young people," Waters uses 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. Photo Credit: Alice WatersClick Here to See More of The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food
#8 Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO, National Restaurant Association
The country's main food-service lobbying organization, the National Restaurant Associationrepresents 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, and runs the Kids LiveWell campaign, which encourages restaurants to serve healthy options for children — while meanwhile opposing Obamacare and efforts to raise the minimum wage. Photo Credit: National Restaurant Association
#7 Irene Rosenfeld, CEO, Mondelēz International
It was Rosenfeld’s decision to spin off Mondelēz from Kraft in 2012 to handle North American grocery operations, and before that, as CEO and then chairman of Kraft, she boosted growth by reinvigorating iconic brands, transformed their portfolio, and expanded its presence in emerging markets. With 2013 revenues of $35 billion, a new global initiative intended to broaden the reach of global nutrition efforts and sustainable agriculture, and the 2013 purchase of nine tech startups with the goal of driving mobile marketing and purchasing, Rosenfeld has brought Kraft fully into the twenty-first century. Photo Credit: Mondelez InternationalClick Here to See More of The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food
#6 Patricia Woertz, Chairman, President, and CEO, Archer Daniels Midland
Providing agricultural storage and transportation services 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 eighth on Fortune’s 2014 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. Photo Credit: Flickr/ Fortune Live Media
#5 Pamela Bailey, President and CEO, Grocery Manufacturers Association
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 ConAgra, 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. Photo Credit: PackworldClick Here to See More of The 11 Most Powerful Women in Food


Additional reporting by Colman Andrews.

Dan Myers,The Daily Meal