Remember when being healthy meant buying Snackwell's instead of Little Debbie and TCBY instead of Baskin-Robbins? The shift toward legit better-for-you eating (and not just believing what the packaging tells you) in the past few years has been massive. Now, more than ever before, consumers want to know not only what exactly they're putting in their bodies, but where it's coming from and who's putting in the work.
Of course, making healthy food more readily available to more people hasn't just happened over night—and the work is far from done. Whether they're creating brands that satisfy your cravings with ingredients you can feel good about or advocating for changes in government food policy, the women highlighted here are making serious moves—for the greater good. And the sugar-free icing on the gluten-free cake: They're quick to extend a hand to other women as well.
Ready for an inspirational boost? Keep reading to learn about the work of these barrier-breaking women.
Jamie Kantrowitz and Nicole Rice, founders of Countertop Foods
What better example of using food as medicine than by fighting inflammation with the most basic cooking essentials: your oils, butters, and spices? This is the mission driving Countertop Foods, a line of Ayurvedic staples founded by Jamie Kantrowitz (a startup and venture capital veteran) and Nicole Rice (a doula and trained Ayurvedic expert). With products including ghee made with turmeric and a honey made with moringa, cumin, fenugreek, oat straw, and coconut oil to boost breast milk production in new mothers, Countertop wants to give your health a leg-up even before you start adding in your veggies and protein.
In April, the duo is launching a new initiative: the Mother's Nourishment Program. After giving birth, so much attention is given to the cute little newborn, but moms still need to be taken care of. Kantrowitz's and Rice's goal is to help educate women on how to use the healing power of food to nourish themselves, not just their new babies.
Katherine Miller, founding executive director of Chef Action Network
Eating out with friends or family is one of the simple joys of life—but you don't always know where your food is coming from when you're not making it yourself. (Or how the people prepping it are being treated.) Katherine Miller's nonprofit, Chef Action Network, connects passionate chefs and educates them on issues like sustainable farming and social justice. She also leads campaigns lobbying for changes in the food world such as fair treatment of workers, cooking with nutrient-dense ingredients, and limiting food waste.
CAN also has a partnership with the James Beard Association, teaching the best chefs in the world how to take action on what many may see as overwhelming, complicated food issues.
Jenne Claiborne, creator of Sweet Potato Soul
Fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, mac 'n' cheese...There's no denying the deliciousness of Southern food. Bless Jenne Claiborne for not only finding genius ways to health-ify classic comfort foods, but for also creating perfect vegan versions. The former By Chloe contributing chef is balancing a vegan food subscription service, YouTube channel, blog, and oh yeah, she just released her first cookbook, too.
By sharing her healthy cooking tips in such myriad ways, she's changing the way American favorites are cooked, one healthy hushpuppy at a time.
Dominique Crenn, chef at Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn
Dominque Crenn was named the World's Best Female Chef and is the first woman to be awarded two Michelin stars—no big deal or anything. But besides serving up heavenly cuisine at French restaurants Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn (both in San Francisco), she's also creating room at the table, so to speak, for other talented female chefs. Next month, Crenn is launching a Women of Food series, featuring 12 top female chefs from around the country.
In such a male-dominated industry, Crenn's not only bringing women to the forefront, she's showing collaboration beats out competition.
Lisa Barnett, co-founder of Little Spoon
Up until a few years ago, the only store-bought baby food options parents had were of the shelf-stabilized variety. After realizing there just wasn't a lot out there, Lisa Barnett founded Little Spoon, a meal subscription service delivering healthy, organic pureed baby food. For parents who want to feed their baby nourishing food, it's a lifesaver: Not many new moms and dads have the time or energy to blend up sweet potatoes and avocados at every meal.
Barnett also did extensive research on the median income of parents with young kids in order to make her service affordable. (Meals cost between $2.99 and $4.99, depending on the subscription.) Now mealtime is one thing that can be taken off a tired new parent's plate.
Lisa Curtis, co-founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli Foods
Moringa, a super-greens that's an even more powerful anti-inflammatory than turmeric (yes, for real!) is seriously trending right now, and you have Lisa Curtis to thank for that. Her company Kuli Kuli is America's biggest moringa supplier and business is only getting better.
Curtis first discovered moringa while volunteering with the Peace Corps in West Africa, where she was amazed to see the locals using it as a power protein source. Curtis spent the next few years raising money to establish women-led moringa farming communities, particularly in Haiti, another region where moringa trees thrive. So in the process of making Americans healthier, she's providing jobs for women in developing nations.
Alison Cayne, owner of Haven's Kitchen
When Alison Cayne opened organic healthy NYC hot spot Haven's Kitchen in 2012, she knew it was meant to be even more than just a chic spot to grab a healthy bite. Cooking classes are held on the reg (so others can learn how to cook good-for-you meals at home) and she also hosts events devoted to sustainability, food policy, and community activism in a spacious loft space upstairs from the cafe. She's also expanding her reach by launching a line of vegan sauces (bye, sugar-laden condiments) and a cookbook.
Jordann Windschauer, founder of Base Culture
Jordann Windschauer is a legend in the Paleo and Crossfit communities. She joined a Tampa-based Crossfit gym right after graduating from college and started eating Paleo shortly after that. Windschauer became a quick devotee of the eating plan—but that didn't mean she wanted to live a life void of brownies and muffins. (Who does, really?) She started crafting her own healthy recipes with no artificial ingredients or preservatives and started selling her treats at Crossfit challenges. Cut to a few years later and her line, Base Culture, is now available nationally at Walmart, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Kroger—among other retailers.
Besides being the head of a major food brand at age 27, she's also a member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a way for her to connect with other passionate women working toward the same changes she's making in the food industry.
Susan O'Brien, founder of Hail Merry
Some just might consider Susan O'Brien a saint for founding Hail Merry, a healthy treats line made with clean, plant-based ingredients. (Think: peanut-butter cups, lemon ganache, and cookie dough bites but with no soy, corn, or GMO-anything.)
When thinking of a name for her brand, O'Brien drew inspiration from the chessboard, where the queen reigns—talk about girl power. O'Brien also serves on the board of New Friends, New Life, a Dallas-based nonprofit that helps former victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Through Hail Merry, she participates in the organization's monthly dinners, helps organize children's events, and provides food and sponsorship funds.
Elizabeth Stein, founder of Purely Elizabeth
Elizabeth Stein launched her natural foods company Purely Elizabeth back in 2009, AKA before healthy snacks were making their way into supermarkets and drugstores across the country. Consumers were won over from the start, but recently, the brand is moving to a whole new level, thanks in part to a $3 million investment from General Mill's 301 Inc. division.
Besides an ever-expanding product line, Stein is forming smart partnerships with other female-led brands: Recently, she teamed up with yummy yogurt brand Noosa, founded by Aussie Koel Thomae, to provide granola toppings to their grab-and-go bowls. Collaboration is a beautiful—and delicious—thing.
Speaking of inspirational, these are the millennials shaking up the food industry. Co-working culinary spaces are revolutionizing the landscape, too.
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