The 15 most important moms in the food industry
Recognizing the contributions of women in the business of food
For four years running, the experts over at Daily Meal have researched, deliberated and debated to come up with a list of the 50 most powerful people in America's food world. What kind of power are we talking about? According to the publication's Editorial Director, Colman Andrews, it's:
"The people with power in the food world decide or influence what and how and where and why we eat. Their power is economic, legislative, sometimes inspirational. They're the agribusiness moguls who decide what crops to plant and how to harvest, process, and sell them. They're the heads of major food processing and distribution concerns and retail food outlets (that is, the people who actually put food on our tables). They're the scolds and nannies — and admirable consumer advocates — who tell us what we should and shouldn't eat and why, sometimes upending whole industries in the process …"
Who made Daily Meal's top five? In order of appearance: Thomas Vilsack, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. Hugh Grant, the Chairman, President, and CEO of the infamous Monsanto Company. Doug McMillion, the President and CEO of Walmart. Michael R. Taylor, the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the United States Food and Drug Administration. Finally, rounding off the quintet, we have one mom: Indra Nooyi, the Chairman and CEO of Pepsi.
As you make your way down the male-dominated list, you'll find the trend continues. Here at Elizabeth Street, as you can imagine, we found this underrepresentation of the mom sector a gross miscalculation. With this in mind, we turned to our resident food guru, Robyn O'Brien, for some help in setting the record straight. In case you're not familiar with the name, O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It, is a former food industry analyst and mother of four who brings insight, compassion and detailed analysis to her research into the impact that the global food system is having on the health of our children.
Now, without further ado, click through this slideshow for our list of the fifteen moms in food who deserve some recognition!
On Talk That Matters, Katie often hosts professional and lifestyle experts who educate her viewers on quick, healthy recipes, foods that boost your mood, nutrition dos, etc. However, her new documentary Fed Up (which she narrated and executive produced), is what really earns her a place on this list. In the film, Couric, along with director Stephanie Soechtig and fellow producer Laurie David, "shine[s] a light on whether the food industry is manipulating the country's youth through the [firsthand accounts] of roughly half a dozen children struggling with their weight and overall health."
A champion of the gluten-free movement, Hasselbeck, who suffers from celiac disease, spread awareness of the importance and accessibility of the alternative diet with her books The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, which has appeared on several best-seller lists, and Deliciously G Free. As founder of NoGii, her own line of gluten-free nutritional products for kids and adults, she continues to make life easier for those among us who literally can’t stomach the stuff.
Known for her steadfastly healthy diet along with her acting chops, the Goop goddess has become one of the lifestyle industry's ultimate power players. The site gives the reader access to unique, healthy recipes and wellness tips, and has made responsible eating look damn good.
As the CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc., "the world's largest independent publisher of health, wellness, and environmental content and the largest independent book publisher in the United States" Maria Rodale has been a lifelong advocate of the organic movement. She's also the author of five books, among them Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe. Her blog, Maria's Farm Country Kitchen, keeps readers updated on news and information related to healthy living. Spreading the word is half the battle.
A daughter of immigrants who braved life-changing risks to give their children a better life, Shazi "seeks to create wealth and pay it forward" via her business, Happy Family. The company, founded and operated by moms, started out as an organic baby food manufacturer and has grown into "the leading premium organic food brand delivering optimal nutritional for the entire family." Shazi also serves on the board of Hydros, which manufactures portable filtered water bottles.
Gigi Lee Chang
Gigi Lee Chang is the CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, a national non-profit organization that empowers parents to protect their children from harmful chemicals (and one of our partners!). She gives frequent speeches on children's health, food and nutrition. Chang is also an expert on socially conscious/sustainable business practices and entrepreneurship, knowledge she gained not only as CEO of Healthy Child, but also as founder of Plum Organics, which produces organic baby foods including fruit puree, toddler snacks & more. This year, the company is giving away half a million Super Smoothies (a mixture of organic fruits, veggies, and grains designed to help fortify the diets of kids who don't get regular meals) to families in need.
Ever heard of a little something called The Honest Company? Along with Christopher Gavigan, Alba founded the brand to create eco-friendly and affordable cleaning, bath and body, health and wellness, and even recreational products for families. More relevant to the food world in particular, Alba authored The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You, in which she gives tips on healthy living and eating and avoiding toxins. It's especially important that celebrities, who, let's face it, have a level of social capital few of us can hope to achieve, use that soft power to spread awareness.
Heather White, executive director of Environmental Working Group (EWG), which "specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability," is a nationally-recognized expert on federal environmental law and policy and a campaign strategist. She's an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University Law Center, where she lectures on FDA regulation and toxic chemcals, among other topics. As stated on the EWG's site, "White has testified before Congress, briefed top Congressional staff and met with senior White House officials on a wide range of issues, including toxic chemical pollution, water quality, energy policy, food safety and farm bill reform." This mother of two is the voice in the ear of the politicians with the power to change food policy.
One of the original members of the Whole Foods team, and its current Global Vice President of Quality Standards and Public Affairs, Margaret Wittenberg's work impacts a lot of families on a daily basis. Wittenberg devotes her time to "quality standards development, food and nutrition education, and corporate communications with special emphasis on seafood sustainability, farm animal welfare, agricultural genetic engineering, and sustainable and organic agriculture." She's also written several books on food and nutrition, including The Essential Good Food Guide: The Complete Resource for Buying and Using Whole Grains and Specialty Flours, Heirloom Fruit and Vegetables, Meat and Poultry, Seafood and More. Quite a mouthful, but Wittenberg ensures the contents are worthy of your palate.