Celebrate the pioneers who define what healthy means now in our food culture, from farmers and chefs to policy wonks and tech entrepreneurs.

Kat Odell
March 06, 2017

 

Photo: Courtesy of Danielle Nierenberg

1. Danielle Nierenberg, president and co-founder, Food Tank, @DaniNierenberg

Researcher and activist Danielle Nierenberg calls attention to the world's most pressing food issues—hunger, obesity, nutrition, and sustainability—in an effort to bring together eaters, producers, and policy-makers to fix our flawed food system. By working toward a more socially, economically, and environmentally just system, Nierenberg believes the world can produce not just more food, but food that contains higher levels of nutrients. The end goal is simple: to decrease malnutrition and reduce the effects of climate change on how we feed ourselves. "We are here to focus on innovative solutions, not just the problems," said Nierenberg at last year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. The group's annual conference unites the world's most influential food figures, including Tamar Haspel, for panels and discussions. This year, Nierenberg continues her crusade by taking Food Tank's summit series outside the U.S. and raising its voice on the larger world stage.

"Healthy means food that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially just."

Photo: Catherine Opie

2. Sandor Katz, fermentation evangelist, author, @sandorkraut

Preservation guru Sandor Katz is the man behind Wild Fermentation, widely considered the bible for harnessing the magic of microorganisms. His follow-up, The Art of Fermentation, earned both a James Beard Award and a place on The New York Times best-seller list. And while fermented foods may be having a moment on menus and in cookbooks, they've been a way of life for this self-proclaimed "fermentation revivalist" since the 1990s—when he moved from Manhattan to a commune in Tennessee after becoming HIV-positive. Katz admits the evidence for his beneficial experiences with fermented foods is mostly anecdotal, but he firmly believes that incorporating fermentation in your diet leads to "good digestion, good immune function, and good overall health," and that ultimately "the diverse probiotic bacteria of live fermented foods have had a positive impact on [his] health." Through his books and workshops, Katz empowers home cooks to ferment with confidence and harness the (delicious!) alchemy of bacteria.

"Healthy means feeling good and trying to take care of yourself."

Photo: Audrey Ma
Photo: Audrey Ma
Photo: Audrey Ma

3. Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, chef-owners, LocoL, @welocol

After rising to culinary prominence on opposite ends of the Golden State, Los Angeles food truck phenom Roy Choi and Bay Area white-tablecloth maestro Daniel Patterson joined in partnership last year with LocoL, a pioneering fast-food concept aimed at inspiring hope in low-income communities through a high-quality, affordable menu of appealing foods. "How you gonna eat healthy when everything around you forces you to not eat healthy?" asks Choi. He and Patterson demonstrate that fast-food classics can be made from wholesome ingredients—without costing more than $5 a cheeseburger. "The problem is, in a lot of our communities junk food is the real food, and the real food options are few and far between," says Choi, who builds umami in his burger patty with ingredients like kombu, fish sauce, and seaweed. "It's not that junk food has to be obliterated, it's that we have to tilt the scales in our favor," says Choi. After opening its first outlet in LA's Watts neighborhood, LocoL's growing empire now includes a second spot in Oakland, as well as a food truck and a bakery commissary.

"Healthy means more than nutrition. It's about re-educating ourselves and pressuring corporations to stop pushing empty calories on our communities."

Photo: Courtesy of My Nguyen
Photo: Tracey Niimi/TN Photography
Photo: Courtesy of My Nguyen

4. My Nguyen, author, social media activist @myhealthydish_

"My definition of real whole foods are basically one-ingredient examples, like broccoli, apple, chicken, and salmon," explains My Nguyen, a mother of twin girls who harnessed the power of social media to turn healthy eating into a second career. Nguyen left the world of finance 9 years ago to cook and care for her family full-time, and in 2012 she launched an Instagram account and a blog under the handle @myhealthydish_. Through the web and social media, she documents the clean eats she prepares at home. Five years and one book later, nearly one million Instagram followers lean in to her images and words on the benefits of apple cider vinegar and prep tips for making banana chia pudding. Nguyen's simple, back-to-basics approach of "eating foods that people living 100 years ago would recognize" empowers her audience by providing them with the tools to make smarter decisions that leave processed foods behind.

"Healthy means respecting your body with real whole food for fuel and development, exercising to be strong and energized, and letting your body rest to heal and replenish."

Photo: Emily B. Hall

5. Hugh Acheson, chef, restaurateur, nonprofit ambassador, TV personality, @HughAcheson

According to Top Chef alum and Georgia restaurateur Hugh Acheson, the fact that "kids know how to download an app on their phone, but they don't know how to scramble an egg," was the impetus behind Seed Life Skills. Acheson's two-year-old nonprofit offers home economics curriculums to schools that teach kids basic skills like cooking. "Scrambling an egg is not rocket science," says Acheson. "But, unfortunately, most people are deterred by something as simple as that." Using Athens and Clarke County, Georgia, as test sites, Seed Life Skills is currently installed in sixth-grade classrooms, with plans to expand to seventh and eighth grade next year. The chef, who recently became an ambassador for the National Head Start Association, a nonprofit that provides health and nutrition education to young children from low-income families, wants to empower kids "to get to a point where they say, 'Hey, wait a minute, I can do this.'" Says Acheson, "I'm trying to create a new generation that has merit badges for skills that get them through life just a little more easily."

"Healthy is just a choice. It's an outlook. It's a realization and understanding of what you're putting in your body to fuel yourself."

Photo: Bill Hayes

6. Marion Nestle, educator, author, @marionnestle

Currently New York University's Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Marion Nestle is also a prolific writer. One of the seminal figures in American food politics and nutrition science, through her books and other media Nestle presses for the change required to create a sustainable food system. Nestle's blog, "Food Politics," is considered one of the country's preeminent sources for unvarnished news about the state of the American food landscape. On it, she shares her meticulous research on issues such as food insecurity, obesity, the environmental impact of diets rich in meat, and the influence of food industry marketing. Nestle's work often examines how massive food conglomerates and agribusinesses have conspired to distort consumers' perceptions of "healthy." And people are paying attention. She's been recognized with James Beard, IACP, and other awards over the course of an esteemed career promoting a healthier world.

"Healthy eating requires a food environment that makes it easier for everyone to make better choices. It also requires a food system that makes it cheaper to buy fruits and vegetables than less healthful foods, so everyone can afford to eat healthfully." — Food Politics

Photo: Courtesy of Detroit Public Television

7. David Katz, MD, researcher, activist, @DrDavidKatz

It was during his hospital residency that David Katz, MD, realized a huge percentage of his patients suffered from preventable illnesses. Since then, Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, has made it his life's work to fight chronic disease through preventative medicine based on a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods. In particular, Katz believes that "lifestyle practices can prevent up to 80 percent of premature deaths and chronic diseases." Diets, says Katz, "should be simple and holistic." Think: more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds—and less of everything else. In his writing and media appearances, Katz tells anyone who will listen that "eating optimally, being active, and avoiding tobacco" are the keys to a long life.

"When we say 'healthy' about food or diet, we really mean healthful—eating that promotes human health. We should also mean eating that is good for the planet, in terms of the climate, sustainability, water use, carbon emissions, land use, and biodiversity."

Photo: Courtesy of Barton Seaver
Photo: Courtesy of Barton Seaver
Photo: Courtesy of Barton Seaver

8. Barton Seaver, educator, author

As director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment, author and chef-turned-environmental-activist Barton Seaver encourages people to make healthier decisions for themselves and the environment. Having written six books on healthy eating, Seaver's career has focused primarily on sustainable seafood, aligning with others passionate about the sea, like New York chef Dan Barber (see #12), who's an advisor to Seaver's board at Harvard. "I'm working to educate about how aquaculture has improved, and how it must be a fundamental part of our diet, both for health and the environment," says Seaver, who acknowledges that most people associate farmed fish with lesser quality. "The industry has progressed, but it's still judged by its past performance, and isn't given credit for its advancements," he adds. Seaver believes in fish consumption (both wild and farmed) and ocean conservation: The key is understanding that properly farmed fish contribute to a diet that is healthy for both humans and our environment.

"No system can endure without diversity. Our health, in the same way, is dependent upon a diet of a wide array of ingredients, which bring to us a host of nutritional benefits as well as keep food interesting."

Photo: Courtesy of Sqirl LA
Photo: Courtesy of Sqirl LA
Photo: Courtesy of Sqirl LA

9. Jessica Koslow, chef, restaurateur, @SQIRLLA

From a cramped Silver Lake spot passing plates of burnt brioche laminated with whipped ricotta cream and splashed with jam to a slightly less cramped cafe with a bit more wiggle room, Sqirl is the Los Angeles success story of Jessica Koslow, a chef who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and threw Tinseltown into a tizzy with her vibrant, flavorful (often vegan) bowls. Koslow's hip eatery has won her Instagram fame, thanks to her pillowy breads topped with oozing jam and a sorrel pesto rice bowl with ribbons of pink watermelon radish. At Sqirl, Koslow invites Angelenos to explore vegetables, whole grains, and thoughtfully sourced animal proteins in full-flavored light, an effort she'll expand at her forthcoming West LA restaurant. Part of that project includes experimenting with growing drought-tolerant produce on a nearby property in hopes of addressing one of California's biggest farming issues. Through her eclectic menu of veg-forward cooking—preserved fruits and fermented kimchi made from oft-discarded produce pieces—Koslow is crafting her own, more sustainable, modern Los Angeles cuisine.

Photo: Anjali Pinto
Photo: Anjali Pinto
Photo: Anjali Pinto

10. Jessica Largey, chef, restaurateur, @roselargey

It's no secret that professional chefs endure both emotional and physical tolls working long hours and longer weeks, sometimes relying on unhealthy vices to get through the night. Until recently, that issue hasn't been openly discussed in the industry, nor have restaurateurs made efforts to address the effects of a particularly grueling vocation. But Jessica Largey—former chef de cuisine at Bay Area's three-Michelin-starred Manresa and recipient of James Beard's Rising Star Chef of the Year award—is one of the first to speak up about the issue, openly discussing her own struggles with depression. And at her forthcoming Los Angeles restaurant, Simone, Largey is committed to creating a healthier environment for her employees, hopefully setting a new standard for others to follow. "I strongly believe one of the biggest changes that needs to happen is letting go of the mentality of 'Toughen up, I went through it and now you have to—that's just the way it is.' Instead, my outlook is, 'I went through it, so now I'm working to make it better for you,'" Largey explains. "I'm committed to finding all the outlets that I can to facilitate change within this field," she adds.

"Healthy to me means committing to a work/life balance that allows for creativity, success, and a personal life. It's having boundaries in place to allow for mindfulness and downtime, as well as holding myself accountable for being productive with a realistic workload."

Photo: Amanda Marsalis

11. Alice Waters, chef, restaurateur, author, activist, @AliceWaters

Summing up Alice Waters' worldwide contributions to food and sustainability in 200 words is impossible. And it's not an overstatement to say that she has inspired most American chefs cooking with a seasonal sensibility. The visionary chef of one of America's most renowned restaurants—credited with introducing "farm-to-table" cuisine—Waters opened Berkeley, California's Chez Panisse in 1971, championing local, seasonal, and organic produce decades before it became de rigueur. Over the last 40 years, Waters has dedicated her life to advocating the benefits of eating organic, citing not only food with better flavor, but more nutritional base products that are created in a way that's better for the environment. With countless honors and contributions to the world of sustainability, Waters has become one of the most pivotal figures in food as well as one of this country's most famous activists due to her work with the Slow Food organization. She's launched programs like Edible Schoolyard, which promotes more healthful school lunches and educates children about food and gardening. The food revolution we're experiencing today couldn't have happened without Waters.

"We can participate in the preservation of both the land and our health by buying directly from local farmers at farmers' markets, asking for organic produce at our grocers, and requiring food labeling that is explicit about how it is grown." — The Art of Simple Food II

Photo: Scott McDermott/Getty

12. Dan Barber, chef, author, farmer, educator, @DanBarber

Dan Barber is the beloved leader of Manhattan's Blue Hill restaurant and sister project Blue Hill at Stone Barns—a restaurant, farm, and culinary research center in upstate New York. "We were excited about the idea of a place where people could experience a connection between the food on their plates and the landscape that produced it," says Barber. His menu-less restaurant, No. 48 on San Pellegrino's prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants list, shares acreage with (and is largely informed by) Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an education facility that supports sustainable farming practices. "At the restaurant, we've partnered with several breeders to trial new varieties of vegetables and grains created not only for better yield, but also better flavor, nutrition, and locality," says Barber of some of the initiatives he explores. He also mills his own grain and uses the heat from compost to cook, which adds flavor to his vegetable-forward, hyper-seasonal creations. Having embarked on numerous efforts to raise awareness about food sustainability issues (including TED Talks and food-waste pop-ups), Barber is now recognized as one of America's foremost experts on creating food that's as delicious as it is good for the planet.

"Deliciousness. We're seeing more and more evidence that flavor and nutrition are one and the same. The most mouthwatering tomato? Turns out its aroma comes from essential amino acids. In our greediness for good flavor, we are naturally drawn to healthier food."

Photo: Quentin Bacon

13. Mark Bittman, journalist, author, @bittman

In his 15-years-long New York Times column "The Minimalist," journalist and author Mark Bittman, a proponent of eating "real food," demystified home cooking through simple recipes made from common, wholesome ingredients. While "The Minimalist" was never health-obsessed in a buzzy, "superfoods" way, it taught good eating habits by incorporating unprocessed ingredients into DIY recipes heavy on fruits and vegetables. "I see my main role as getting people to put good food on the table for themselves and their families," explains Bittman, who has also written more than 20 books, many of which promote easy home cooking. Bittman believes food should be: green (as sustainable, low-impact and regenerative as possible); fair (ethically produced, taking humans' labor, animals' lives, and the earth's health into account); nutritious (promoting health); and affordable to all. He highlighted those topics during his 2007 TED Talk. Worried about the way Americans eat today, the author champions the benefits of a vegetable-rich diet, which he explains in his book VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … For Good.

"I don't believe in superfoods; I don't believe in fads; I don't believe in panaceas. I believe that healthy eating involves cooking real food and having some understanding of how that food is produced."

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

14. Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States, @MichelleObama

Michelle Obama was candid when she spoke with Cooking Light Editor Hunter Lewis for the March 2015 issue. Mrs. Obama admitted that a personal struggle with her own daughters' weights had inspired her to aggressively tackle America's childhood obesity problem. So she founded the successful Let's Move! initiative during her husband's presidency. Targeting the eating habits of children, particularly in schools, Mrs. Obama—with her husband's help—passed a pivotal piece of legislation: 2010's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates healthier options for school lunches. This includes not just more fruits and vegetables, but also less sugar, salt, and fat-rich snacks. The law also enables schools in low-income areas to offer students free breakfast and lunch. Mrs. Obama's healthy food agenda has served as an unprecedented catalyst for improved kids' nutrition throughout the country, and next year, more informed, less cryptic guidelines on food nutrition labels are coming. Yet it remains to be seen whether or not her goal of "solving the challenge of childhood obesity" will be met within a generation.

"It's multifaceted …It's physical, it's internal, it's my diet and my emotional state—it's all tied in together." — Vogue interview

Photo: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

15. Rene Redzepi, chef, restaurateur, innovator, @ReneRedzepiNoma

René Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant Noma earned the No. 1 spot on San Pellegrino's esteemed list in 2010, and again in 2011, 2012, and 2014. His approach to letting the seasons dictate his menus and his interest in scavenging local lands for unsung edible plants has inspired chefs to explore wild ingredients just outside their doors. With Noma deemed one of the world's most important places to dine, this father of present-day foraging has had a platform from which to promote sustainability. At Noma, that means repurposing "waste" ingredients, a topic Redzepi is keen to examine: It's part of the inspiration behind Noma's fermentation lab, which turns discarded ingredients into foods that are even more nutritious than in their raw state. Redzepi's MAD food symposium invites some of this generation's most innovative chefs and food leaders to discuss locality, seasonality, and sustainability. In 2015, Redzepi announced plans to shutter Noma and move it to a plot with an on-site farm. There, Redzepi will grow a portion of his ingredients as part of a venue that's been described as an urban farm.

"For me cooking is something that is completely transparent and without pretense, that is honest and generous and has something true and original to it." — The Official Website of Denmark

Photo: Sidney Palmer

16. David Shields, heirloom food preservationist

It's hard to miss foods you never knew existed. But thanks to the meticulous seed-detective work of University of South Carolina professor David Shields, extinct Southern heirloom crops like the Bradford watermelon and Carolina African runner peanut are starting to make a comeback, as are a number of other crops that have more or less gone extinct. Inspired by Shields' work, Glenn Roberts, founder of high-quality heirloom grain company Anson Mills, appointed Shields chairman of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, an organization centered on studying and spreading awareness of forgotten grains, as chef-beloved Carolina Gold rice once was. The two have teamed up as heirloom food crusaders, Shields tracking down the seeds and Roberts planting them. Their work can be seen on the plates at Charleston hot spots like Husk Restaurant and McCrady's, restaurants run by another notable leader of Southern cuisine anthropology, chef Sean Brock.

"Eating healthy means dining on ingredients long revered for their taste and nutrition, prepared in a way that preserves the vitamins and micronutrients."

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images

17. Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and healthy food crusader, @jamieoliver

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the television-friendly Brit who came to fame with a show about bare ingredient cookery (The Naked Chef), has turned his passion for nourishing cuisine into a mini media empire consisting of a slew of top-selling cookbooks, an online video series—even an award-winning TED Talk. He's also using his celebrity as a tool to educate the world about healthy eating. Some might remember Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, which aired on ABC in 2010 and chronicled the chef's struggle to reform school lunches while also revealing the sad truth about how poorly educated our nation's children are on proper nutrition. The series folded after its second season, but it nonetheless succeeded in bringing attention to childhood obesity, an issue that Oliver still fights on his own through Jamie's Food Revolution, the umbrella operation representing myriad global campaigns that range from spreading awareness about the negative effects of sugar consumption to teaching basic cooking skills.

"I want people to eat healthy, nutritious and tasty food! A great starting point is cooking meals from scratch yourself—this doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming." — Today.com

Photo: Courtesy of Erika Allen

18. Erika Allen, urban gardening pioneer and head of Growing Power, @GrowingPower

Erika Allen is the daughter of Will Allen, the agriculture expert who founded Milwaukee-based urban gardening nonprofit Growing Power in 1993. Now Growing Power's national director, she has built upon her father's mission of serving underprivileged communities by expanding into other cities like Chicago. "We believe that access to healthy food is a social justice issue and ultimately a human right," explains Allen, who strives to create "socially just and equitable access to resources and opportunity" through sustainable urban farming as well as "empower young people with the skills and knowledge to lead and make better decisions." Allen's work has earned her Chicago Tribune's Good Eating Award, among other kudos, and has landed her a government-appointed position as a Chicago Park District commissioner advising on the sustainable use of public spaces. But her core mission remains focused on the people, by striving to empower inner-city denizens through community-operated urban agriculture spaces; to offer healthier, environmentally friendly food options; and to create more than a few jobs, too.

"I look forward to each season's harvest with a humility and seriousness, because I realize more than ever the importance of my health and that food truly is medicine."

Photo: Courtesy of Gina Homolka
Photo: Courtesy of Gina Homolka
Photo: Courtesy of Gina Homolka

19. Gina Homolka, editor of Skinnytaste blog, @Skinnytaste

Kicking off her career in healthy eats back in 2008, Gina Homolka's super-successful Skinnytaste blog is one of the web's OG pioneers, centered on her belief that lighter dishes made from unprocessed, fresh ingredients don't need to sacrifice flavor. "My parents were both immigrants, so I grew up eating home-cooked meals made from scratch," she says. "When you cook with whole foods, you know exactly what you're putting into your body." Thanks to her medley of uncomplicated lean eats and cleaned-up comfort classics that pretty much anyone can easily re-create in their own kitchen, the home cook and food blogger now boasts a monthly following of 3 million readers, an Instagram audience of more than half a million, and two cookbooks—both New York Times best sellers.

"Healthy is about balancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of my life."

Photo: Coutesy of The Farmer's Hand
Photo: Sarah Barthlow Photography
Photo: Coutesy of The Farmer's Hand

20. Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes, owners of The Farmer's Hand, @TheFarmersHand

Last September, chefs Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes opened The Farmer's Hand, a unique Detroit market and café that sells affordably priced Michigan-grown produce and Michigan-made larder items. Their suppliers receive 70% of the product's selling price, so these other small, local businesses will thrive as they do. In a city adrift with cheap, processed foods and liquor stores, The Farmer's Hand—which the female urban-food pioneers planted in the easily walkable and heavily foot-trafficked Corktown neighborhood—is a welcome respite of in-season fruits and veg and small-batch goods that offer fresh and honest ingredients, as well as a café that serves healthy grab-and-go items, vegetable-forward grain bowls, and sandwiches enriched with the flavors of raw local honey and farmstead cheddar cheese.

Photo: Tom Uhlman/Getty

21. Monica Garnes, vice president of produce and floral merchandising, Kroger supermarkets

As vice president of produce and floral merchandising, Monica Garnes oversees produce purchases at more than 2,700 Kroger markets across the country; between 34 states, that amounts to about 2 million pounds of fruits and vegetables for America's largest supermarket chain. In an effort to support small-scale proprietors and offer her customers access to healthier, often organic, products, Garnes has boosted the amount of local farmers that Kroger buys from by 27% in the past five years, proving not only that big businesses can viably work with small-scale growers, but that they should, too.

Photo: Courtesy of Campbell Soup Co.

22. Denise Morrison, president and CEO, Campbell Soup Company

Campbell Soup Company, the 148-year-old king of canned convenience foods, is refreshing its image, and leading the charge into the healthy food aisle is president and CEO Denise Morrison. Five years ago, Morrison convinced her board to spend $1.55 billion to acquire Bolthouse Farms, known for freshly packed ready-to-eat items like carrot sticks, and a year later added organic baby food brand Plum Organics and refrigerated salsa company Garden Fresh Gourmet to the company's roster as well. Morrison hopes to set a higher standard of food transparency for her company that other big businesses will follow, and to continue to make good on the company's purpose of "Real food that matters for life's moments."

"For me, it's all about real food that matters for life's moments. Real food has roots and is made with recognizable, desirable ingredients. It's prepared with care, ethically sourced and sustainable. Real food should be accessible to everyone—delicious, safe, and available at a fair price, all three without compromise."

Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen
Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen
Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen

23. Sweetgreen, healthy-minded fast-casual chain, @sweetgreen

Iconic New York restaurateur Danny Meyer was right to invest in Sweetgreen early on. The lines at the smash-hit green-leaves and grain-bowl chain—lauded for its quality ingredients sourced from nearby farms—are so long during lunch, you'd think the food was free. Founded by friends Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru in 2007 in Washington, D.C., while attending Georgetown University, Sweetgreen has grown from a single, sustainably minded, bespoke salad spot stocked with local produce and proteins to more than 60, with 100 outlets being the near-term goal. Sure, it garners hip cache and touts designer dishes from cool kids like Momofuku's David Chang and Sqirl's Jessica Koslow (also on this list, #9), but its more important achievement benefits everyone: proving that a high-volume business can viably source from local farms, while offering a nutritious product at a relatively affordable price.

"Eating healthy doesn't mean sacrificing taste and craveability—in fact, I believe it's just the opposite. By taking the time to prepare fresh, real ingredients, you get super-flavorful food that is also filling, nutritious and delicious. " —Nicolas Jammet, co-founder

Photo: Courtesy of Kimbal Musk
Photo: Courtesy of Kimbal Musk
Photo: Courtesy of Kimbal Musk

24. Kimbal Musk, founder of The Kitchen, healthy fast-food pioneer, @kimbal

While billionaire tech tycoon Elon Musk is looking to improve the world through sustainable energy (and very fast cars), his brother Kimbal is addressing the environment through food. In 2004, the younger Musk debuted The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado, which has grown into a chainlet of five casual American bistros that source products from local farmers. He's also behind Next Door, an expanding $10-and-under fast-casual concept that demonstrates dishes made from locally sourced ingredients can be affordable, too. How affordable? Well, Musk has plans for a new slow-food place à la Roy Choi's LocoL (#3 on this list) to rival the fast-food franchises of the world by selling grab-and-go fare made from wholesome ingredients for under $5. He hopes to take the concept nationwide by 2020. Musk is also looking to educate more than just consumers on the merits of back-to-basics meals and the importance of local farms: After having initiated his own programs through The Kitchen to help schoolkids with food and nutrition, he has opened Square Roots in Brooklyn, an urban gardening incubator for new food businesses, in which entrepreneurs tend vertical gardens made of shipping containers, growing soil-free produce under LED lights.

"I grew up cooking food for my family. I know the power of bringing children, parents and grandparents together over a meal of real food that truly nourishes them." — Medium.com

Photo: Photography by Kimberley Hasselbrink

25. Michael and Nelly Hand, owners of sustainable salmon fishery Drifters Fish, @driftersfish

Drifters Fish is a dock-to-dish fishing outfit run by seafaring couple Michael and Nelly Hand that has a sustainable vision for spreading the word of Alaska's incredible salmon. "We aspire for people to know their fisherman and feel connected to the traceable story of the seafood on their plate," explains Nelly, who, together with her husband, catches wild salmon out of the waters around South Central Alaska. "We utilize unique and specifically designed nets, and work within the regulations determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game," Nelly says. The Hands sell their catch during the summer directly off the boat in Cordova and straight to eager chefs across the country at food-nerd hotbeds, such as Seattle's Canlis and Brooklyn's Mermaid's Garden. During the winter, the couple runs their own Community Supported Fishery in the Pacific Northwest, which is essentially a CSA for ocean animals, to offer customers frozen salmon. While it's no secret that our oceans are overfished, Nelly believes that "one way we can work toward a better future now is by supporting local, American, small-scale fisheries that practice sustainable harvesting."

"Healthy to us means eating simply and intentionally, slowing down to find the story behind our food."

Photo: Chancellor Tha Beast, Courtesy of Appetite For Change

26. Appetite for Change, Minnesota food-education initiative, @afcmn

Last year, a YouTube video chronicling a bunch of Minneapolis kids rapping about fruits and vegetables went viral, attracting over a quarter-million views and even getting posted on VH1's website. The four-minute song, which includes lyrics like "fake food ain't what you need" and "my fruits and veggies be off the chain," was the success of a summer project called Grow Food (also the song's name). The project is part of Minnesota's nonprofit Appetite for Change (AFC), an organization devoted to educating and training kids about food and health in preparation for culinary-connected careers. "At Appetite For Change, we see the power of food to bring people together, and we harness that power through each of our programs," states AFC development and communications manager Molly Cherland. She says, "Whether it's youth growing vegetables in one of our urban farm plots or neighbors eating lunch at our café, food strengthens communities." And can inspire a memorable earworm, to boot.

"Healthy today means feeding our whole selves: buying fresh produce, trying new recipes, cooking with and for the people we love, gathering around the table to share a meal." — Molly Cherland, AFC development and communications manager

Photo: Courtesy of Bulletproof

27. David Asprey, founder of the Bulletproof brand, @bulletproofexec

Dave Asprey, the dot-com millionaire turned founder of the Bulletproof brand, instigated a global trend of spiking coffee with butter after experiencing Tibetan yak butter tea and its purported energy-boosting power. According to Asprey, the lean Tibetans who began each morning with butter tea inspired him to examine his own health. The fat-rich drink he devised went on to serve as the basis for his—and millions of others'—Bulletproof lifestyle and birth a New York Times best-selling book. In it, as in life, Asprey advocates a diet rich in saturated fats and low in carbs, all kicked off daily with a dose of Bulletproof coffee: organic coffee enriched with grass-fed butter and Bulletproof's own Brain Octane Oil. Does it work? The diet has its skeptics, but Asprey claims improved health and a higher IQ. The proof? Asprey trimmed down from 300 pounds while developing his Bulletproof beliefs, and he has launched a successful line of branded Bulletproof products, from coffee beans to low-sugar, collagen protein–enriched vanilla shortbread cookies. So clearly something's working.

"When I eat to properly fuel my body, I feel so much better than healthy—you can literally radiate power when you go beyond being just healthy."

Photo: Courtesy of Impossible Foods
Photo: Courtesy of Impossible Foods
Photo: Caitlin Bensel

28. Patrick Brown, creator of Impossible Foods / The Impossible Burger and co-founder of Kite Hill, @ImpossibleFoods

Biochemist Patrick Brown did the unthinkable with his Impossible Burger: He created a 100% plant-based patty that bleeds like a beef burger. Looking to address the food industry's contributions to climate change through raising cattle, it took Brown and his research team (partly funded by Bill Gates) five years to engineer their groundbreaking burger. It's just the first of many efforts planned, under the umbrella company Impossible Foods, to revolutionize the way we eat with environmental sustainability in mind. "We founded Impossible Foods to … restore healthy ecosystems that have been replaced or degraded by the massive impact of animal agriculture," explains Brown. Brown is also the co-founder of Lyrical Foods, producers of the Kite Hill brand of vegan cheese and yogurts made in collaboration with renowned, longtime vegan chef Tal Ronnen of Los Angeles' Crossroads restaurant. According to Brown, changing dietary patterns is a daunting task, but also the key to eating in a way that's better for the world, so he's building companies that do just that. Says Brown, "The current Impossible Burger is a proof of concept, but it's just the first step."

"Healthy to me involves a diet of low-maintenance but delicious plant-based foods, doing challenging work that matters with wonderful colleagues, protecting as much time as I can for my family, and exercise that doubles as fun."

Photo: Courtesy of Bob's Red Mill

29. Bob Moore, founder of Bob's Red Mill, @BobsRedMill

"The impact of unhealthy diets on our global society is one of my greatest concerns, and I am dedicated to helping people change their eating habits," professes Bob Moore, founder of Bob's Red Mill, one of America's most widely distributed lines of unprocessed whole grains. Bob began the Oregon-based company with his wife, Charlee, in 1978 out of an abandoned mill. Since then, by recognizing America's growing interest in getting back to basics (and by responding to the ongoing trend of people with dietary restrictions), Bob's Red Mill has gone from a few bags of stone-milled whole-wheat flour and whole-grain cornmeal to over 400 items. The brand provides wholesome alternatives to processed products in many supermarkets and specialty stores across the country. And his reason for doing so is as simple as simmering a pot of grits: "It doesn't necessarily take more time or money to eat healthier."

"Healthy means eating real, minimally processed, whole-grain foods, and living life with purpose!"

Photo: Caitlin Mitchell
Photo: Caitlin Mitchell
Photo: Caitlin Mitchell

30. Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise, co-founders of Sakara organic meal delivery, @SakaraLife

Through feeding New Yorkers a plant-based menu of sweet potato morning bowls and coconut-jicama wraps, friends Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise have grown their rainbow-hued, plant-based meal delivery service Sakara from a fledgling startup in 2012 to a clean-eats operation that ships anywhere across the country. The company was inspired by the Ayurvedic belief in viewing food as medicine, which is why one will encounter ingredients like reishi, a mushroom that's been consumed for centuries for its ability to help the body cope with stress, and spirulina, a zippy green, mineral-rich algae. To that end, Sakara aims to embrace "a more holistic view of health and wellness," explains DuBoise, "one that views the systems of the body as integrated, considers the whole person, and addresses lifestyle habits, like diet and stress, rather than viewing health conditions and symptoms as isolated." Not the goal of your average meal kit.

"To us, healthy means approaching wellness in a balanced way ... eating clean and plant-based the majority of the time, while allowing yourself to be realistic and enjoy life without restriction or guilt."