Food & Wine selected the "Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink" in a collaboration with Fortune. Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food & Wine, explains the magazine's top five selections. [Ed. note: For more from Cowin, read how she, Mario Batali and Jimmy Fallon once ended up in a bathtub together.]
Noelle Carter: You cover a broad range of disciplines, ranging from politicians and chefs to filmmakers and winemakers and even wine buyers. How long did it take you to come up with the list? Was there anyone who might have initially surprised you that made it on the list?
Dana Cowin: It was a months-long project. It's true, there were lots of people on this list who were new to me. There are chefs on the list too. But to me, it was so interesting to uncover some what I would call food celebrities who are helping feed the world.
DC: The No. 1 person on the list, Ertharin Cousin, is not a woman who's in my world's day-to-day. I was thrilled to learn about her extraordinary work. She has helped feed over 177 million hungry people -- that's just a staggering number -- in the last 2 years since she joined the program. [Ed. note: The organization has "3,500 staff serving over 90 million beneficiaries in 80 countries across the world." Cousin is pictured above in 2013 at a press conference.]
DC: I don't know if everyone has heard of Chellie Pingree. She's been a farmer for 40 years. She actually co-owns a bed and breakfast in North Haven. [Ed. note: The inn and restaurant are supplied by a farm she owns.]
But the reason that we're so interested in her is her impact on the farm bill. The farm bill only comes up every 5 years, and she was determined to get as many farmer-friendly provisions in the bill as possible for the small farmers. It's a farm bill that is beneficial to some of the larger farms, but the small farmers face different issues. She helped small farmers get certified organic. She helped with crop insurance for diversified farms. She tripled the amount of money allocated to farmers markets and local food programs. It's a huge, huge help.
DC: I'm really passionate about Barbara Banke. She and her husband, Jess Jackson, started what has become a gigantic business back in the '80s. But Barbara has moved the business forward, even after her husband, Jess, died. She has had an amazing business in California, but she's expanded to Oregon, she's expanded to Australia.
She also has tried to figure out what to do with the leftovers of the winemaking business, essentially the compost of the wine world. She's created an organization called WholeVine where she just wants to use these ingredients that are the leftovers. Anyone who is going to take care of the world in that way, I'm always interested in what they're doing.
DC: You probably know her from Fed Up, which is a documentary about sugar and trying to address childhood obesity. [Ed. note: Before Fed Up, she looked at the bottled water industry in Tapped.] She, Katie Couric and Laurie David created a film that followed children and just looked at what they are really eating.
They came up with something that is fantastic called The Fed-Up Challenge, to go sugar free for 10 days. That sounds easy, but it's not that easy. They've had more than 44,000 people participate. Anything we can do to tackle childhood obesity, I am happy to participate and happy to give Stephanie the award for that reason.
DC: There is so much wine being made in China right now. Judy Chan, about 12 years ago when she was 24, left her job at Goldman Sachs and decided to join her father, who has a winery. [Ed. note: At the time, she didn't even drink.] Now the winery that they have together produces 2 million bottles a year; it's called Grace Vineyard. They use the French varietals -- cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot -- in their Chairman's Reserve. They're looking to make a high-quality wine out of China.
Part of what also interests me is her approach. What she's done is she has created a restaurant at the winery, and she is going to open more wine bars. She wants to meet her consumer and have this interaction between the winemaking and the wine drinking that one doesn't always get -- I think it's very modern for China.