They're growing kale in abandoned lots, feeding hungry schoolkids, looking out for our laborers, and teaching us why cooking matters. In short, they're changing our food world for the better. We toast them all.
Interviewing New York City's mayor is like interviewing a living, very verbal encyclopedia. Facts, figures, and statistics roll off his tongue easily and accurately, backed up by research from the Department of Health as well as the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. The successful (three-term), energetic, thoughtful, progressive leader is 100 percent devoted to improving the lives of his constituency. His initiatives in healthy living are already legendary -- the ban on smoking in public places and restaurants, the establishment of salad bars and healthier menus in school cafeterias, the elimination of trans fats from prepared foods in restaurants, and now the limited size of calorie-packed sodas and juices. He cares, and his city is all the better for it. -- Martha Stewart
They might look like the odd couple -- one with a long goatee and even longer hair; the other in a boxy blazer and sensible shoes--but get the Oscar-winning actor and former political adviser talking about childhood hunger in America, and you quickly realize they're kindred spirits. Some 30 years ago, each established an organization to fight global famine, and 20 years later, Jeff Bridges's End Hunger Network and Bill Shore's Share Our Strength both began looking at hunger in this country. In 2010, the pair joined forces on Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, which works to get meals to needy children. "We don't have kids dying as a result of not enough food," says Shore. "We have kids -- 16 million of them -- facing serious malnutrition and cognitive deficiencies because they aren't getting enough of the right food." One in five, Bridges adds, "won't be healthy enough to get educated enough to function, let alone lead." Their solution? Get states to tap into the millions in federal funds earmarked for school meals. And the governors are listening: No Kid Hungry now has programs in every state. -- Alanna Stang
He took New York City by storm cooking the food of his Swedish youth at Aquavit in the 1990s. And though he named his memoir Yes, Chef, Ethiopian born Marcus Samuelsson is far more than just a master behind the stove. In addition to having recently launched two websites devoted to getting the word out about how easy -- and how important -- it is to cook at home, he opened Red Rooster Harlem, the restaurant that's lived up to his dream of serving as both crossroads of the city and pillar of the community. Local kids drop by for cooking classes; much of the pr oduce comes from the nearby farmers' market; and many of the staff call the neighborhood home. "I'm proud to be part of the solution," says Samuelsson, "to have a place where regardless of your gender, regardless of your race, regardless of your sexuality, if you're working hard, you have a job." -- Jocelyn C. Zuckerman
The eldest daughter of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward grew up in the woods, "running around with a pack of dogs, fishing." Though she tried the first family business, a stint in acting school revealed it wasn't for her. With a degree in ecology, Nell Newman couldn't help chiming in on Paul's products, but he resisted organics; to him, it meant "that horrible weird stuff Mom made in the '70s." It took Nell secretly serving an all-organic Thanksgiving dinner in 1992 to get the go-ahead to explore a line of organic pretzels (Pop's favorite snack). Since then, she and business partner Peter Meehan have grown Newman's Own Organics into one of the largest organic brands in the country, producing everything from cookies to pet food. The company has even teamed with McDonald's to offer its coffee in the chain's New England locations. "Think about who's trying this," Meehan told Nell, "people who've never tried organic coffee before." "That's remarkable," she says, flashing a movie-star grin. "It really is a step in the right direction." -- Paige S. Orloff, writer at OnEarth.org
Seven years ago, Abeni Massey was a single mother getting $350 a month in food stamps. Because she didn't have access to affordable produce in her West Oakland neighborhood, most of the family's meals came "out of a can." Then she biked past City Slicker Farms and learned she could get vegetables from its plots and that the organization would help her set up a backyard garden. She was hooked upon planting her first seed. Chickens and goats followed, and Massey eventually became the City Slicker farm manager. Today she has her own urban project, City Girl Farms, which operates a store (making things like compost and chicken feed more accessible to city dwellers) as well as two plots of land, one of which incorporates sheep, bees, and olive trees. Massey plans to divert some of the bounty to the kitchen of her new restaurant, Township, which she'll open next spring. "Urban farming isn't just a hobby," she says. "You'd be surprised how much you can grow on a small piece of land." -- Sarah Engler
When President Obama signed legislation in 2009 that supported more resources for issues like childhood obesity, Curt Ellis and friends were determined to find a way to help address what they see as "the most pressing problem in America: what we feed our kids." But the six cofounders of FoodCorps didn't want to simply air-drop into towns and start wagging fingers. Instead, they developed a program that pairs service members (mostly twentysomething college grads) with local groups in communities where kids have limited access to fruits and vegetables and where the rates of type 2 diabetes are high. Volunteers, who sign on for a year, help build school gardens, teach kids about cooking and nutrition, and collaborate with farmers and chefs to remake cafeteria menus. Today the AmeriCorps grantee reaches more than 50,000 children in 12 states. "We're there to start the conversation," Ellis says, "whether it's in a community ready to put local lettuce on every lunch tray or one finally calling a board meeting to ask, 'Have we thought about what we're feeding kids in their lunches?'" -- Lindsay Funston
We'd be happy just being able to tell our friends that our restaurant had been the venue of choice for President and Mrs. Obama on their first official New York City date night. But that particular bragging right is only one of many for the soft-spoken chef behind Manhattan's Blue Hill. Among the others? Overseeing the award-winning restaurant at sister property Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley; serving on the board of the farm and educational center there; and leading the national conversation on organics, locavorism, and, most recently, the importance of breeding when it comes to the quality (and flavor) of our food. Also, the guy can write. Which is why we're so looking forward to the publication of his first book next year. -- J.C.Z.
Growing up outside of Flint, Michigan, Tracie McMillan may not have had a whole lot of money, but what she did have was brains. And the guts to spend months at a time working undercover in such unsavory and physically punishing gigs as migrant garlic picker, night stocker at Walmart, and cook at Applebee's. "I wanted to start a discussion that could bridge the gap between people who are really struggling to get food on the table," McMillan says, "and the folks who are comfortable enough that they can decide to just pay more money to get better food." Published earlier this year, her brilliant book, The American Way of Eating, did just that, and people haven't stopped talking about her since. -- J.C.Z.
Read about the rest of the Visionaries (listed below) in the November 2012 issue of Whole Living available on newsstands and the iPad now.