grocery shopping

Just who exactly is shaping how you eat? Probably, you like to think that you alone are responsible for your food decisions. And if you’re growing your own food, that’s quite possibly the case. But for the majority of us, it’s a different story.

According to the Daily Meal’s top 50 most influential people in our food-purchasing decisions, the situation isn’t very inspiring. But sadly, it’s pretty accurate. Just take a look at the top five:

  1. Tom Vilsack, Secretary, USDA
  2. Hugh Grant, Chairman and CEO, Monsanto
  3. Doug McMillion, President and CEO, Walmart
  4. Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner, FDA
  5. Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsico

We are, for the most part, pretty reliant on the “food industry” that influences what we buy at supermarkets and restaurants. They sponsor the cooking shows we watch. They take out full-page ads in our favorite magazines, and two-minute commercials during the Super Bowl. That’s power over our food, certainly.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The restaurateurs, chefs and even food brands are being pressed by Big-Ag—that’s producers like Cargill (#10), Tyson (#12) and Monsanto (#2). They provide the commodities like sugar, corn and soy, and the animal products that find their way into prepared foods, recipes and menu items that we’re bombarded with on a regular basis. It’s a chain reaction causing cravings and even addictions to these unhealthy and unethical foods that people like PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk (#43) and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey (#28) are doing everything they can to stop us from eating. Not just for the health of the animals or the environment. But for our own health, too.

What we eat is also part of a process that’s been called “the Walmart effect.” The gargantuan retailer’s demands are so exorbitant that manufacturers are forced to make shifts in all areas of production and marketing, which spirals out to other retail outlets, restaurants and eventually, your plate, even if you don’t shop at Walmart, or purchase Pepsi products and do your best to avoid GMOs.

You’re not alone.

On the Daily Meal’s list are movers and shakers in the organic, ethical and slow food movement like Alice Waters (#39), Michael Pollan  (#34), and Mark Bittman (#42). First Lady Michele Obama (#22) is on the list too, for her efforts in making our food system healthier, particularly for our nation’s children. (We would have also added Will Fantle and Mark Kastel of The Cornucopia Institute—the leading organic industry watchdog group keeping organic food safe.)

Ultimately, the list is nothing but names and numbers. The order doesn’t matter so much, except perhaps for these two: Ben Silbermann, founder and CEO, Pinterest (#23) and Jeremy Stoppelman Co-founder and CEO, Yelp (#9). Why do these two matter more than say, the CEO of McDonald’s (#15) or Craig Jelinek, the CEO of Costco (#13)? Because websites like Pinterest and Yelp give us voices. Us being the perceived little people. The subservient open mouths and hollow bellies ready and willing to eat what we’re told. Websites that give us voices and the opportunities to share healthy recipes and tips on restaurants and brands, also give us power. And even though the corporate interests that dominate the list seem to be pulling the strings attached to our food choices, they’re really beholden to you and me. They’re only as successful as we let them be. The more food information we share through networks like Pinterest and Yelp, the more we change the food system—putting each and every one of us in the top spot when it comes to who is most powerful in deciding what we eat.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: lkayama