Monday, November 7, 2011

Pollan in Forbes: First Lady Michelle Obama Is "World's Most Powerful Foodie"

Two critical White House partners are also on the list...
Bestselling author and sustainable food advocate Michael Pollan has created a list of "The Word's 7 Most Powerful Foodies" for Forbes magazine, and First Lady Michelle Obama takes the top spot in a field of acclaimed contenders. According to Pollan, the individuals are the "most powerful voices" in the "movement to reform the American food system." Two of the other powerful foodies on Pollan's list have close ties to the White House: Urban farmer Will Allen is #4, and Jack Sinclair, Head of Grocery for megagiant Walmart is #5. (Above: The photo of Mrs. Obama that appears on the list)

Pollan names the First Lady the World's Most Powerful Foodie because "her Let's Move campaign has moved the food issue to the top of the national agenda, shining a bright light on the links between childhood obesity and America's fast food diet."

Last April, Mrs. Obama was named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world for the Let's Move! campaign.

Walmart's Sinclair, who does all the purchasing for the corporation, is a crucial partner for Mrs. Obama. Walmart has made the largest private-sector commitment to the Let's Move! campaign, pledging to build markets in food deserts, re-formulate its private-label foods to reduce calories, sodium and fat, and drop prices on "healthy foods."

Allen, a MacArthur "genius," is also crucial to Mrs. Obama's goal of eradicating all US food deserts by 2017. He's the founder and CEO of Growing Power, an urban agriculture non-profit and land trust headquartered in Milwaukee that teaches impoverished communities to grow food. He's been involved with the Let's Move! campaign from the beginning, and spoke at the February 2010 White House launch event. In September, Allen was awarded a $1 million grant by the Walmart Foundation to expand his work to fifteen states. Two weeks ago, Mrs. Obama toured Growing Power's Chicago headquarters, Iron Street Urban Farm, with Allen, during the first-ever food desert summit. (Above: Allen speaking at the Let's Move! launch)

Given that Pollan's list is so short, it's telling that two of his food-world power brokers are in the First Lady's immediate orbit, and crucial to the success of her campaign. But in two different interviews in the last few weeks, Pollan said he is concerned that the First Lady has been "co-opted" by Walmart, a sentiment shared by many in the sustainable food movement; click here for Pollan's interview with Michael Ruhlman and click here for a longer, more detailed interview with Washington Post's Tim Carman. Walmart's million-dollar donation to Growing Power also caused an outcry among sustainable "foodies." A critique by Andy Fisher, Executive Director and co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition is here; Allen's general response to this kind of criticism is in this post on Growing Power's blog.

It's also worth noting that Pollan names Dr. Marion Nestle as #2 on his list. A nutritionist and the Paulette Goddard Professor at New York University, Nestle is an outspoken critic of both major food corporations and government agriculture and nutrition policy. She is recognized on the list as "an indispensable voice on the problems of the American diet and their roots in industry marketing and government policy."*

Forbes last week named President Obama the most powerful person in the world.

The full list of Power Foodies:

#1 Michelle Obama, First Lady, U.S.

#2 Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor, New York University

#3 Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA

#4 Will Allen, Urban Farmer

#5 Jack Sinclair, Head of Grocery, Walmart

#6 Ken Cook, Executive Director, Environmental Working Group

#7 Mark Bittman, Columnist, The New York Times

*Ed. note: Nestle has frequently offered commentary on Obama food initiatives here on Obama Foodorama; most recently, she commented on the Let's Move! commitment from Darden Restaurants, Inc., America's largest chain restaurant corporation, to revamp its menus and child-centric advertising practices. Read here.

*Photos: At top of post, Mrs. Obama is at
Vhuthilo Community Center in Soweto township in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she worked with volunteers in the community garden last June. By Charles Dharapak/AFP/Getty. Allen photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/

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