Stories / Impact, Awards

2013 JBF Leadership Award Winner Ricardo J. Salvador

Aarti Virani

Aarti Virani

October 25, 2013


Ricardo J. Salvador
Director, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

It’s not unusual for Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), to log a 16-mile run before arriving at the office. As an ardent marathoner, Salvador’s running philosophy—more long-distance strategy than sprinting—is one that also defines his persistent professional drive. 

In his current role at the UCS, a nonprofit organization made up of 400,000 citizens and scientists, pairing technical analysis with advocacy, Salvador works with scientists, economists, and politicians, devoting his laser-sharp focus to remodel the current food system into a more sustainable one.

“The food system is a human creation. In theory, it should be possible for us to optimize the system to better meet our needs,” says Salvador, speaking from his office in Washington, D.C. “The system has eliminated drudgery and increased convenience, but it’s a system that responds to those who have wealth. The task is not to make this an anti-market crusade but simply to ask how the market can function to return the greatest public good.” 

“The 11 Trillion Dollar Reward,” a 2013 report Salvador and his team recently released, concludes that the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables will save 100,000 lives and $17 billion in heart disease–related costs on an annual basis. “This is our effort to connect a wonky policy issue with something that every citizen cares about—their health,” he explains. 

Under Salvador’s direction, the UCS has reached beyond niche subjects (like scientific critiques on the use of transgenic technology in agriculture) to focus on more resonant, widespread concerns, including the link between healthy farming practices and combating obesity. “There is plenty for us to articulate to the public so people can advocate for a better food system to ensure the government takes more responsible action with their tax dollars,” Salvador says, hinting at current federal policies that subsidize processed foods, contribute to an unhealthier population, and perpetuate damaging agricultural practices.

According to Kara I. Carlisle, director of New Mexico programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where Salvador formerly served as a program officer, it’s a values-driven commitment that continues to steer his success. “Ricardo’s a true intellectual,” says Carlisle, referencing his academic past—prior to joining the Kellogg Foundation, Salvador was an associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, teaching pioneering courses on sustainable agriculture. “He brings measured analysis that’s rooted in a worldview of deep values for people who have been historically underinvested in,” she adds. “He also carries a really profound vision for a way of life that honors the planet, culture, and history.” 

It’s no surprise, then, that Salvador repeatedly emphasizes that living within our ecological means is one of the most paramount issues of our time. “Our planet has a finite capacity to provide for our needs,” he claims. “Conflict in the Middle East, global warming, water wars—everything you see in the headlines is related to food supply,” he continues. “So those of us doing this work are dealing with some of the most urgent issues that humanity has ever countered.”

About the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards
The 2013 JBF Leadership Awards recognize visionaries from a broad range of backgrounds, including government, nonprofit, and literary arts, who are working toward creating a healthier, safer, and more sustainable food world. Now in its third year, the Leadership Awards recognize specific outstanding initiatives as well as bodies of work and lifetime achievement. Winners were honored at a dinner ceremony that took place during the James Beard Foundation Food Conference on October 21 in New York City. For more information, visit

You might also like: 
Archived Video Coverage of the 2013 JBF Food Conference