The 50 Most Powerful People In Food

Steve Jobs, good for Huffpo tout

Who decides what you eat?

Believe it or not, there’s a small group of people who imposes massive influence on your dinner plate.

The Daily Meal has identified 50 people who “whether by dint of corporate position, media access, moral authority, or sheer personality, substantially change, improve, and/or degrade the quality and variety of the American diet or the way we think about it.

Read on to see how surprising figures, including Steve Jobs, made the list.

#10 Jim Skinner, President and CEO, McDonald's Corporation

The Daily Meal: Skinner, who started at McDonald's as a lowly management trainee, holds the reins at the world's largest hamburger chain by far (58 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, invented the breakfast sandwich, and brought fresh-fruit smoothies to a whole new audience.

McDonald's buys almost a billion dollars' worth of American beef annually, and is the largest purchaser of apples in the U.S.

#9 Sam Sifton, Restaurant Critic, the New York Times

The Daily Meal: 'As Frank Bruni's successor at The New York Times, Sifton has stirred controversy galore with his often unexpected assessments of New York City eating places and his sometimes counterintuitive awarding of stars.

However, his ability to stir the pot seems only to have increased his influence. An opinionated critic (should there be any other kind?) backed by the grey Lady wields the power to make or break restaurants both new and established in the nation's largest city, which makes Sifton undeniably America's preeminent restaurant reviewer.'

#8 Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart

The Daily Meal: 'Whether you love it or love to hate it, you simply cannot deny that Wal-Mart has a lot of weight to throw. It is not only the world's largest grocer -- think of all that purchasing power -- but is also, you may be surprised to learn, 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 2004, Duke has made a commitment to have the company purchase more locally grown produce and instituted a program of sourcing sustainably grown produce.'

#7 Brooke Johnson, President, Food Network

The Daily Meal: 'Think about how powerful food TV stars like Guy Fieri and Rachel Ray are; then consider the power of the person responsible for giving them their platforms.

Johnson became president of the Food Network in 2004, and since 2010 has been in charge of all food content for FN owner Scripps Networks Interactive, including the recently-launched Cooking Channel and a family of websites.

Having engineered the development of Iron Chef America, it's clear that Johnson understands the power of turning food into entertainment, and pretty likely that she'll keep finding new ways to do so.'

#6 Alice Waters, Chef-Restaurateur and Activist

#5 Steve Jobs, New Media Guru and Co-Founder and CEO, Apple

The Daily Meal: 'Steve Jobs one of the most powerful people in food??? As far as we know, he can't cook.

We don't know or care what he eats for breakfast or where he eats for dinner. In fact, Jobs has just gone on medical leave (he fought off pancreatic cancer in 2004) and is not currently in day-to-day charge of Apple.

But with the introduction of the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and the iPad, Jobs gave consumers a whole new way to learn about restaurants, recipes, and more. The devices lend public reviews on sites like Yelp! greater prominence than they've had, and apps like Urbanspoon, Epicurious, and Locavore are just the first course.

The iPad is even being used as a menu or a wine list in some establishments. Jobs remains a contender, and we'd bet he hasn't finished changing the food game.'

#4 Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States and Activist

#3 Hugh Grant, Chairman, President and CEO, Monsanto Company

The Daily Meal: '(Not that Hugh Grant, silly). As leader of this international biotechnology firm, which is the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds -- and the manufacturer of Roundup (the most commonly used agricultural pesticide around the world) and recombinant bovine growth hormone, among many other substances -- Grant has a major influence on the food we eat, and will eat more of in the future, whether we like it or not.'

#2 Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Daily Meal: As the organisation that oversees the country's food safety systems and sets nutritional guidelines (through the emblematic if periodically revised Food Pyramid, among other things), the USDA plays a vital role in how we perceive and interact with food.

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 on programs designed to raise awareness of the importance of exercise and nutrition.

#1 You

The Daily Meal: The user. The reader. The consumer. The restaurant-goer. The home cook. The culinary professional. Websites and magazines report the trends; cookbooks sometimes ignite them or fan the flames.

But you are ultimately the one who decides what to devour and what to leave aside. You're responsible, finally, for the quality and integrity of our raw materials, the style and accent of our restaurants, the success or failure of our food products and cuisines.

You determine what we eat and how and sometimes why. And you're doing a great job. Keep it up.

Head to The Daily Meal to see the full list, featuring Michael Bloomberg and Lockhart Steele

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