We’ve seen it on the news, the covers of best-selling novels, and even on the big screen. Americans are getting bigger and more unhealthy day by day. Over a third of American adults are considered obese, and it’s estimated that up to one in three adults will suffer from diabetes by the year 2050. (In 2010, it affected one in 10 U.S. adults.) And many of these problems have been blamed on things like fast food, super-sized portions, and high levels of sugar in the foods available on store shelves.
So just what has to be done to turn this doom-train around? Maybe it’s eating more local produce? Or improving school lunches? Or campaigning for better regulations in the food industry? Whatever ends up being the answer, here are our 15 favorite health heroes who have devoted themselves to improving America’s relationship with food.
1. Marion Nestle Let’s talk politics. Food Politics, that is. It’s the name of Nestle’s blog, where she writes about nutrition, biology, health policy, and food marketing. She’s published several books discussing the importance of our food sources, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and Safe Food. Her research has made waves in the world of food politics, including on topics like the scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choices, obesity, and food safety, and she emphasizes the role of food marketing in the health of our country. No relation to the Crunch bar. (Photo: www.foodpolitics.com) — SL
2. Michael Pollan Food for thought is this guy’s specialty. Michael Pollan‘s the author of bestsellers like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and, most recently, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. One of the leading activists for changes in the food industry, he’s never shy about sharing his (often controversial) opinions on food, agriculture, and health. (Photo: Ken Light)— SL
3. Ann Cooper “School lunch” usually brings back memories of processed food-like substance — I’m still scarred by “pizza-burgers.” Chef Ann Cooper, better known also known as “Chef Ann” or the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” has one mission — to change the way we feed kids in our school. She’s working with schools to reasonably budget for healthy food and pushing for school lunch to become a part of the legislative conversation. (Photo: Kristen Boyer) — KK
4. Sam Kass This Chicago native isn’t JUST the first family’s personal chef — he plays a huge role in first lady Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move!” campaign, too, starting with the garden on the White House’s South Lawn. Kass has worked on everything from child nutrition legislation to how to fund school lunch programs, and the best ways to fight childhood obesity. (Photo: www.obamafoodorama.blogspot.com) — KM
5. Alice Waters In terms of the “slow food” movement in America, Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse started it all. Waters and her iconic San Francisco restaurant helped launch the organic craze by serving only healthy, local, high-quality ingredients. Waters, an organic food advocate and activist, has expanded her mission of using a few amazing ingredients cooked to perfection by creating the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Edible Schoolyard, two initiatives designed to bring healthy food and produce into classrooms across America. (Photo: www.chezpanisse.com) — ZS
6. Robyn O’Brien After working as a food industry analyst, Robyn O’Brien decided to switch gears to become an author and public speaker about the issues that matter to her most — ensuring the food we eat (and feed our children) is safe and healthy, and making sure the food industry understands that necessity, too. Her first book, The Unhealthy Truth, discusses the ties between American food, government, and culture, and the importance of cleaning up the food system in our country. O’Brien also founded AllergyKids to help children suffering from food allergies, autism, ADHD, and asthma, and to address the role that food additives play in our health. This is one mother (of four!) who’s taken the health of her family as inspiration to help millions of others! (Photo: www.robynobrien.com) — KM
7. Jamie Oliver Starting with his ABC reality show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution back in 2010, this British chef started the “revamp America’s school kitchens” fire. Even after filming ended, the Food Revolution campaign has been dedicated to improving school lunches across the country. He’s won countless awards for his efforts, and although his defeat by the bureaucracy of the school system was well documented on the show, his efforts made lasting waves that have continued to inspire others to make a difference since. (Photo: www.jamieoliver.com) — KM
8. Mike Bloomberg Mike Bloomberg isn’t afraid to make waves in the name of public health, and other cities take note. As NYC’s mayor, he’s tackled smoking in public and banned the use of trans fats in many of the city’s restaurants. Next up? Sugary drinks — he recently proposed a (very controversial) ban on the sale of large sodas. Now, for the rest of the country! (Photo: www.nyc.gov) — KK