Who shapes what you eat? We all know the cool girls, the women who inspire us to eat deliciously, from the ur-influencer Julia Child to the spotlight idols of today: Ina Garten, Chrissy Teigen, Alison Roman and her ubiquitous cookies, the bloggers and tastemakers of Instagram.
But beyond taste there is power — the power to affect what millions of people crave, eat, and buy. There are powerful women behind your grocery store experience and everyday choices, in the spaces where your food is made, packaged, and sold.
Today we're giving you an inside look at 15 women wielding real power in how we shop, cook, and eat in America today.
The Woman Changing How You Grocery Shop
Stephenie Landry wants to make grocery shopping easier for you, and she's succeeding. She was the lead in launching Prime Now, Amazon's two-hour shipping service; she had her hand in Amazon Fresh, Amazon's grocery delivery service; and she helped launch Amazon Restaurants, Amazon's restaurant delivery service. When it comes to food, she delivers.
As a mom to a 6-year-old, Landry also knows how hard it is to find time to cook and grocery shop. "We give our customers their time back — and we free them up to devote that time to whatever activity they choose," she tells us.
Landry thinks that it isn't surprising that there are so many women pioneering change in the food industry: "Women do the great majority of shopping in almost every retail category. It makes sense for us to be pioneering and leading the technology that transforms this space where we are the key customers."
The Woman Powering Your Favorite Coffee Chain
Who: Rosalind (Roz) Brewer
Power Role: COO and Group President at Starbucks
Starbucks has become one of the most ubiquitous brands of this generation: There are over 28,000 retail stores around the globe serving millions of people their caffeinated drink of choice every day. Even if you don't appreciate the cult-like status of their Pumpkin Spice Lattes, we all recognize that Starbucks has changed the culture of coffee in America and around the world.
After McDonald's, Starbucks is the second-biggest restaurant chain in America, so Rosalind Brewer, the first female and African American to hold her position, has one of the most powerful restaurant gigs in the country. She started as COO in October of 2017, but she's not new to the C-suite. Before Starbucks, she was the CEO at warehouse giant Sam's Club, where she grew digital shopping and membership.
As the COO she oversees all business operations across the Americas, a role that requires an eye for innovation and a talent for diversifying. She was at the forefront of the company's dramatic response to racially charged incidents, closing every Starbucks store for a day in May for anti-bias training. "Good companies acknowledge their mistakes," she told NPR. "And learn from them and then make the necessary changes to become a better company."
The Woman Reenvisioning America's Diet
Who: Melissa Hartwig
Power Role: Co-creator of the Whole30 program
By now you probably know someone who has done Whole30 (if you haven't done it yourself). The wildly popular program asks people to cut certain foods out of their diet for 30 days to see how those foods affect their bodies. The Whole30 book — published in 2015 — has sold over one million copies and has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 120 weeks.
Hartwig would be the first to say that Whole30 is not a "diet" but a "lifestyle switch" — and moving away from "diet" language is certainly part of the program's appeal.
But the influence of Whole30 goes beyond the personal and is having a profound effect on the grocery industry, as it finds ways to meet shoppers with Whole30-friendly products. "Whole30's fiercely loyal community is driving change at the retail level," Hartwig tells us. "Companies like Applegate, Blue Apron, Zupa Noma, and DNX Bar have all changed their product ingredients specifically with the Whole30 community in mind."
The Women Gathering a New Generation of Cooks
Who: Sarah Adler and Mackenzie Barth
Power Role: Founders of Spoon University
Spoon University is the cooking site we wish we had in college. Adler and Barth started the media company in 2014 at Northwestern to help fellow students navigate food and restaurants. It grew exponentially, and there are currently 225 college chapters of Spoon University in eight countries, and the sites receive five-million visitors every month (and growing).
Why is Spoon University special? It's about more than the food; Adler and Barth believe their generation is looking for something new in food culture. "Spoon was built to help college students find their voices and explore food together, learning how to be an adult in the process," the co-founders tell us. "We see people understanding how food nourishes them, how the ingredients they put into their bodies are important, and this next generation is starting to demand that food companies are more honest and responsible."
The Woman Disrupting the Future of Home Cooking
Who: Lisa Q. Fetterman
Power Role: CEO and Co-founder of Nomiku
The Instant Pot might be the darling kitchen appliance right now, but when it comes to the future of home cooking, we're pretty excited about the potential of sous vide. Sure, an immersion circulator sounds high-tech and a little scary, but when you really break it down it's like a more advanced slow cooker (and generally with better results). Pinterest agrees, and named sous vide one of the trends to watch last year.
Lisa Fetterman is the CEO and co-founder of one of the most popular sous vide companies, Nomiku. The company has doubled in revenue in hardware each year since 2012 and is in the 10th printing of their sous vide cookbook. Last year they also launched a food program specifically for their immersion circulator, which has also seen huge growth.
"It is our greatest goal to make everything intrinsically utilitarian about food joyful," Fetterman says of the company's ethos.
The Woman Shaping America's Recipes
Who: Lynn Blanchard
Power Role: Director of the Meredith Test Kitchen
If you've made a recipe from Better Homes & Gardens in the last 33 years, there's a good chance Lynn Blanchard had her hands on it in some way. In fact, according to Meredith, nearly one in six Americans has read the magazine — that's a whole lot of people who have been influenced by her work.
"It is my hope that we are inspiring our readers to cook together as families," Blanchard tells us. "We strive to offer cooking solutions that will 'de-stress' the mealtime experience so they can enjoy quality time together."
The Woman Reinventing the Role of Canned Goods
Who: Jane Freiman
Power Role: Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at Campbell's
Campbell's isn't just for your mom's generation. The company might have started nearly 150 years ago (1869, to be exact), but they're still helping Americans put food on the table today. Campbell's was recently named Most Reputable Company of 2018, in part because of its ability to keep up with a younger generation. Whether that's by embracing transparency in their products, or investing in trendier "fresh" operations like Bolthouse Farms and Garden Fresh, Campbell's remains a household name because it's able to pivot to growing tastes. In fact, Campbell's estimates that almost 96 percent of Americans have some sort of Campbell's product in their home today.
One of the women responsible for innovation at the company is Jane Freiman. All her ideas for the brand start with solving the home cook's modern problems. "We want to understand what their needs and barriers are and help them get food on the table." As Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at Campbell's, Freiman works to both understand how and help cooks use their products. She evaluates recipes, manages a team of developers, and searches for trends that might suit the brand.
Freiman and her team are actually responsible for the invention of the chicken and rice bake, a simple one-dish casserole that has been wildly popular in the last two decades since it was created. "They would make rice, they would make chicken, but they wanted it together," Freiman says on the simple, but ingenious, idea behind the dish. "Magic happened."
The Woman Reimagining Food Magazines
Who: Maile Carpenter
Power Role: Editor-in-Chief at Food Network Magazine
Over 13 million people read Food Network Magazine a month, which makes it the most well-read food magazine in the United States. And since the magazine's founding in 2008, Maile Carpenter has been at the helm. She made now-familiar (but then-revolutionary) choices to elevate food into a pop culture experience, weaving in the network's celebrities into a cohesive, highly readable magazine.
"My hope is that home cooks are having a lot more fun in the kitchen than they ever have," Carpenter tells us. In the last decade since the launch of the magazine, she explains that our approach to food in America has dramatically changed. "We used to talk about what we weren't eating (fat-free, sugar-free, diet, low-carb) and now we talk about, and photograph, what we are eating."
The Woman Modernizing Health Food
Who: Veronica Garza
Power Role: Co-founder and President of Siete Family Foods
If you follow any kind of wellness influencer on Instagram, then there's a good chance you're familiar with Siete. The brand specializes in making grain-free tortillas and tortilla chips (and soon hot sauces as well). Siete is a leader in modernizing health foods for people who want flavor first — something we at Kitchn are seeing more and more in consumer packaged goods. You can find their products in over 1,000 stores across the country (and growing).
Veronica Garza is the impetus behind this successful health food brand. She was diagnosed with lupus in 2004, and adopted a grain-free diet as a result. The idea for Siete emerged after playing around in the kitchen and creating a grain-free tortilla that actually tasted great. "I think our products provide joy and convenience to people trying to eat more consciously for their health and well-being," she shares.
The Woman Predicting What You'll Eat Next
Who: Laurie Demeritt
Power Role: CEO at The Hartman Group
There's a good chance that Laurie Demeritt knows what you're going to eat before you eat it. Demeritt has worked at The Hartman Group — a consumer insights and market research firm — for over 20 years. She works with some of the largest food and beverage brands in America.
According to Hartman, the "dynamics of shopping and consuming have undergone more change than at any other time since the Industrial Revolution," and that many people, despite being busier, are shopping even more to get exactly what they want.
Demeritt says that because of the consumer research that Hartman conducts, the consumer holds more power than ever: "We see products today that better reflect consumer needs regarding more healthful, higher-quality products as well as their desires for more transparency around how products are grown, produced, and brought to market."
The Woman Making Seafood Sustainable
Who: Carrie Brownstein
Power Role: Global Quality Standards Coordinator of Seafood for Whole Foods
Shopping for seafood at Whole Foods is reassuring for us because we trust that it's easy to find a sustainable choice. Ensuring those choices are wholly sustainable is a huge undertaking by the grocery giant, and Carrie Brownstein (no, not the Portlandia star) has been a champion of this movement for the past 18 years of her career.
"When I first began working on seafood sustainability, many fish markets and grocery stores still held the attitude that if it swims, they'd sell it," Brownstein tells us. Since then she has made steady, inspiring changes at Whole Foods, "including only allowing wild-caught seafood certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or rated yellow or green from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and The Safina Center."
Brownstein works closely with farms and fishing docks to make sure they work with the best suppliers. "We know that it's possible to enjoy seafood and care for our oceans simultaneously, so we'll continue to raise the bar for seafood industry standards," she explains.
The Woman Publishing Your Favorite Cookbooks
Who: Maya Mavjee
Power Role: President and Publisher, Crown Publishing Group U.S.
Ina Garten has written 10 cookbooks (with another one coming out this fall), and all have been published by Clarkson Potter. The company that oversees Clarkson Potter is the Crown Publishing Group, which is also responsible for books by some of our favorite cooks, including Yotam Ottolenghi, Giada de Laurentiis, and Martha Stewart.
At the helm of Crown Publishing Group is Maya Mavjee. She's been in her role as President and Publisher since 2010, and has worked in publishing for over 20 years. "Cooking is good for everything — for our health, our planet, our communities, and our families — and we can draw a straight line from our publishing program to how people live, gather, and build community," Mavjee says in response to what drives her work.
The Woman Creating Those Insanely Viral Food Videos
Who: Ashley McCollum
Power Role: General Manager for BuzzFeed's Tasty
BuzzFeed's Tasty has only been around since 2015, but it's changed the way we view food in America. I mean, when was the last time you went on Facebook and didn't see one of their hands-n-pans videos, if not another publisher that was trying to imitate their look and feel? The brand has amassed an incredible 94 million followers on Facebook, and is one of the largest food channels on YouTube.
As the General Manager of Tasty, Ashley McCollum is a big part of that growth. "Tasty has made cooking and food more accessible for the masses," McCollum says. And when she says for "the masses," she means it — Tasty reaches an incredible 500 million viewers a month. "We're connecting people through food at massive scale, with a modern lens on content, social, and distribution."
The Woman Solving Our Food Waste Problem
Who: Emily M. Broad Leib
Power Role: Founder of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic
Forty percent of the food we produce in the United States goes uneaten. Besides making sure the food we buy gets used, what other actionable steps can citizens take? That's where Emily Broad Leib comes in. As the founder of the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) at Harvard, Leib is addressing food waste on the legislative level. The FLPC is "working to slowly but surely help Americans understand and participate in improving our complex and fraught food system," says to Leib.
Leib is outspoken on food labeling policies, including her work as Executive Producer on Expired? Food Waste in America. The short documentary looks at the confusion behind "sell by" and "use by" date labels, and how label reform is necessary to help prevent food waste.
Is there a woman you admire changing how we eat, shop, or cook food today? We'd love to hear about her in the comments!