The Daily Meal’s second annual ranking of America’s 50 Most Powerful People in Food was released this month. Colman Andrews, The Daily Meal editorial director, Saveur co-founder and James Beard Award winner, discussed his thoughts on the list and what the ranking means for the food industry.
What leadership characteristics and trends did you spot throughout this year’s list?
This isn’t necessarily new this year, but I do think that most of the figures on our list are people with a sense of mission, whether that mission is to feed the hungry, fight childhood obesity, grow crops more efficiently, expand the grocery repertoire, stimulate debate around food issues, or just cook good food. Increasingly, the American citizenry is realizing that food matters, not only because it nourishes us (we hope) and brings us pleasure but also because its production, distribution and consumption affect the world around us, helping to define both our environment and our culture.
Were there any surprises? What kind of feedback have you received this year?
“Surprise” manifested itself primarily in our realization that we had left some very key people off last year’s list. We’ve had some positive reactions to the list, along with a number of thoughtful comments (“It’s amazing to think how this list would be altered if junk food suddenly disappeared”), numerous suggestions for people who should have been listed and, of course, some criticisms — for instance, complaints that we didn’t include any farmers (though, in fact, we did include one, Will Allen, as well as the head of the United Farm Workers).
What were some of the most difficult decisions to make?
Obviously, deciding what new names needed to be on the list and thus what existing ones had to be dropped was difficult, as was the fact that our desire to present a balanced roster, representing many different kinds of power, meant that we had to leave out a number of deserving people in every category. The hardest thing of all, though, was to put everybody in order. Is a key media figure really more powerful than the chairman of a multinational corporation? Should a celebrity chef outrank an anti-hunger activist? We argued long and hard about relative position, coming up with an order that can be disputed endlessly but that we feel is ultimately justified.
If you were to predict something about next year’s list, what would it be?
Taking into consideration other figures suggested by our readers and casting our own net wider, I suspect that we’ll come up with more and more names, and perhaps expand our definition of food power. Next year’s list might well be America’s 75 — or 100 — Most Powerful People in Food.
What does this list mean for the food industry?
I’m not sure that the corporate heads and governmental officials included in the list will care all that much about the fact that we have recognized them for their power, but I suspect that most of the chefs, writers and activists who are mentioned will welcome our acknowledgement that manipulation of the means of production or the supply chain are not the only ways to influence what and how we eat.
Share your thoughts on the list in the comments.