20 Food Heroes
J. Kenji López-Alt
POSITION: Food Lab columnist and chief creative officer for
NOTABLE FOR: Feeding our nerdy love of the place where cooking meets science. López-Alt obsesses about the perfect way to cook everything from burgers and fries to soft-boiled eggs and ramen. Each installment of the MIT grad’s Food Lab online column is a little culinary workshop, precise and witty. If you want to know how to get restaurantburner heat for your home wok, read him. His first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, to be released in two volumes next year, promises to make him the Harold McGee of a new generation.
POSITION: Executive chef and co-owner of Alinea and Next
NOTABLE FOR: Restlessly exploring the idea of the modern restaurant. His first restaurant, Alinea, boasts one of the most innovative menus in the world. His second, Next, helmed by Chef Dave Beran, adopted an online ticket system for reservations (a sort of Stub- Hub approach) and a menu that is rethemed every three months. Soon, the eternally restless Achatz may take Alinea to new cities as a sort of pop-up road show. Also up next: a documentary film, a possible cooking show, and a food-based installation in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
NOTABLE FOR: Being the nation’s leading food philosopher and aphorist. Pollan’s opening line to his bestselling 2008 book, In Defense of Food, is justly famous: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” With those seven words, Pollan neatly summed up the current state of science-based dietary advice—and proceeded to blame more than a century of nutrition science for reductively focusing too much attention on “good and bad” nutrients while enabling the industrialization of the food supply, to the detriment of whole foods. Better-tasting food costs more, but you might need less of it to find real pleasure: “Buy better stuff, buy less of it, and you’ll be happier.”
POSITION: Harvard scientist
NOTABLE FOR: Defending heart-healthy fats. One of the world’s most-cited
research scientists, Willett derailed the all-fats-arebad trend of the early ’90s. He’s also helped halt transfat production. His new battle: “I think now carbohydrate quality is probably the single biggest problem” in the American diet.
POSITION: Founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!
NOTABLE FOR: Giving the organic-farm movement an organized voice and a huge goal. This native Iowan with D.C. lobbying experience challenges the influence of the factory-farm system. His organization, with 300,000- plus members, seeks political attention and support for a $25 billion plan to make 75% of U.S. farms certified organic by 2025. Realistic? You don’t get change from anyone by asking for crumbs, ” he says.
POSITION: CEO of food service company Bon Appétit Management
NOTABLE FOR: Taking the local, sustainable ethic to the most pedestrian of eateries, the cafeteria. Bauccio’s 400-plus venues in 32 states, ranging from colleges and museums to the corporate offices at Twitter and eBay, are not the nutrition perp walks of yore. He lures top cooks with good pay and working conditions, and ensures they put out tasty, ethically sourced, ecofriendly meals. His latest fight: convincing major meat companies to adopt more humane production practices, using contracts with Bon Appétit as incentive.
NOTABLE FOR: Using the bully pulpit to take local action on national food-related health issues. His push to ban sales of oversized sodas cannily turned attention toward portion size as a public health concern. The soda push followed two earlier measures: a ban on trans fats in restaurants in 2006 and mandatory calorie-posting on menus in 2008 (adopted nationwide by McDonald’s in September). Research is mixed on the effectiveness of calorie-posting, but the mayor got the city talking.
POSITION: Superstar TV chef
NOTABLE FOR: Using star power to fight the good-food fight. Oliver is a superb performer with a sunny disposition and deep cooking chops. His Feed Me Better school-lunch campaign turned him into something of a saint in the U.K. Over here, the second season of Food Revolution ended in a victory when the Los Angeles County School Board agreed to remove flavored milk from school menus. But he didn’t stop there: His mobile kitchen toured L.A. this summer, teaching kids the ABCs of healthy cooking.
Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia
POSITION: Cofounders of Zero Point Zero Production
NOTABLE FOR: Being wokhot multimedia food-entertainment producers. They pushed food TV outside the kitchen with Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, which morphed into No Reservations and led to a second series, The Layover. Ignoring “print is dead” clichés, they helped launch David Chang’s Lucky Peach journal. On the way: a new PBS series, The Mind of a Chef, premiering this month, and another Bourdain show on CNN in 2013.
POSITION: Cofounder and executive director of Monterey Bay Aquarium
NOTABLE FOR: Pushing seafood sustainability into mainstream consciousness. Under Packard’s guidance, Monterey Bay established the Seafood Watch program, with its “avoid,” “best choice,” and “good alternative” ratings, which make understandable the enormously complex regional and fishing-method factors that affect species viability. Packard is encouraged by the commitment she sees businesses making and stresses that every seafood lover can make a difference by directing dollars to sustainable choices.
POSITION: CEO of Growing Power
NOTABLE FOR: Bringing healthy food and sustainable farming practices to urban “food deserts.” Growing Power has set up urban farms and education programs around the country, training more than 1,000 new urban farmers yearly. Allen’s next mission: building a five-story “vertical farm,” low-rise greenhouse gardens that could serve as the prototype for city farms of the future.
POSITION: Executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
NOTABLE FOR: Using his topchef status to promote the local-food ethic. Barber was an early adopter of farm-totable principles and helped raise their profile in trendworshipping NYC. He uses high-profile platforms like the New York Times’ op-ed section and TED conferences to make articulate arguments for national food-policy improvements. He also walks the walk with his two restaurants, which both use sustainably raised ingredients from local farms. He says his motivation is simple: “Trying to provide the besttasting food. The future is better-tasting food.”
POSITION: Cofounder of Foodways Texas, chairman of Louisiana Foods Global Seafood Source
NOTABLE FOR: Promoting thehealth and viability of Gulf seafood. LFGSS’s Total Catch weekly market created retail demand for bycatch—lesser-known fish netted accidentally and often wasted. LFGSS is his prime business, but he’s also helping rebuild the Gulf ’s oyster population, depleted by hurricanes, drought, and the 2010 oil spill. He’s a Gulf champion, grounded in reality: “Convincing the world that the products are as good and wholesome as products from other seas across the world will take time and effort.”
POSITION: Founder, chairman, and co-CEO of Chipotle
NOTABLE FOR: Tapping sustainable, family-owned farms to supply the fastfood market. Ells partnered with Niman Ranch more than a decade ago to provide pasture-raised pork to his budding burrito chain. Despite a $1 per dish price spike, sales doubled, proving interest in quality and provenance. The chain’s more than 1,200 locations now serve antibiotic-free meat, local and organic produce, and even hormone-free sour cream. Ells’ Chipotle Cultivate Foundation gives grants to chefs, farmers, and educators who share his vision for sustainability.
POSITION: Founder of Anson Mills
NOTABLE FOR: Rebuilding the South’s depleted stock of native grains. Anson Mills organically grows and sells heirloom grains that were near extinction. Despite his 14 years of progress, there’s a long way left to go: “We used to have 103 rice varieties in the Charleston area alone. We’re now down to two, and looking to rebuild.”
POSITION: Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo
NOTABLE FOR: Sticking to PepsiCo’s commitment to better nutrition, despite pressure from competitors and shareholders after the 2008 recession. Under Nooyi’s guidance, most PepsiCo products will have less sodium, sat fat, and sugar within eight years. She’s confident her soda-centered company can be both profitable and healthier. Indeed, she’s bullish on good health: Nooyi anticipates the company’s revenue from healthy snacks to roughly double—to $30 billion—by 2020.
POSITION: Founder and president of Health Care Without Harm
NOTABLE FOR: Pushing to make hospital food less of a sad joke than it has been. Nearly 400 hospitals and food service contractors have signed his Healthy Food Pledge, an effort to treat hospital food as preventive medicine. Participants perform hospital menu makeovers, stock their larders with CSA-supplied produce, and eliminate foods laced with pesticides and antibiotics.
POSITION: Harvard professor
NOTABLE FOR: Founding Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives, a conference that provides a course doctors don’t take in med school: Cooking 101. The conference connects instructors from The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley with health-care professionals so they can learn to teach patients strategies for healthy cooking and eating.
POSITION: Coauthor of Portion Size Me: A Kid-Driven Plan to a Healthier Family
NOTABLE FOR: Fighting back against weight-based bullying. Marshall recruited his family into a month-long healthy-eating pledge two years ago, which he envisioned as the opposite of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me. The project led to genuine lifestyle changes—he ultimately lost 36 pounds—and then a book, written with his mother.
Michael O. Minor
POSITION: Baptist pastor
NOTABLE FOR: His faith-based war on obesity. The Delta preacher banned fried chicken from his congregation’s gatherings more than 10 years ago. He’s since taken his crusade national, aiming to install a trained “health ambassador” to oversee antiobesity education programs at each of the National Baptist Convention’s roughly 10,000 churches this year.