Stories / Awards

The 2022 Leadership Award Winners

Recognizing five visionaries for their work in creating a better food world

JBF Editors

March 16, 2022


Today, we announced the recipients of the 2022 Leadership Awards, a program that spotlights the important and complex realms of sustainability, food justice, and public health. The Leadership winners will be honored at an invite-only ceremony in Chicago on Sunday, June 12, and recognized on stage at the Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 13 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Humanitarian of the Year and Lifetime Achievement honorees will also be recognized at the Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 13 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Our 2022 Leadership winners are:

Mónica Ramírez
Founder and President, Justice for Migrant Women 
Mónica Ramírez is a long-time advocate, organizer, social entrepreneur, and attorney fighting to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity. For over two decades, she has fought for the civil and human rights of women, children, workers, as well as for Latinx and immigrant communities. She has been awarded the Harvard Kennedy School’s inaugural Gender Equity Changemaker Award, the Feminist Majority’s Global Women’s Rights Award, and was included on Forbes Mexico's 2018 list of 100 Powerful Women, among other distinctions.

Irene Li
Co-founder, Mei Mei Dumplings and Prepshift
Irene Li has spent years driving the restaurant industry forward through sustainable, ethical sourcing of ingredients and fair and progressive employment practices. She is co-founder of Mei Mei in Boston and Prepshift, a tool that helps restaurateurs build happy and informed teams, as well as Project Restore Us, a nonprofit whose mission is to restore food security by providing accessible, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable groceries to families in the greater Boston area. She is an Eater Young Gun, Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree, and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, as well as a six-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist.

Erika Allen
Co-founder and CEO of Operations, Urban Growers Collective
Erika Allen is an urban agriculturalist and social change artist. She is co-founder and CEO of operations for Urban Growers Collective, a Black- and women-led nonprofit farm in Chicago working to build a more just and equitable local food system, as well as co-owner of Green Era Sustainability Partners, a nonprofit whose mission is to create more sustainable communities by supporting local food production through better management of biodegradable waste and access to soil. Erika is passionate about social justice, food security, and community development, and uses her experience as a visual artist to support individuals and organizations in their vision for social and economic change.

Mavis-Jay Sanders
Director of Culinary Development and Education, Drive Change
Mavis-Jay Sanders is the director of culinary development and education at Drive Change, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support formerly incarcerated young people through quality employment in the food and hospitality industry. Mavis-Jay—a James Beard Chef’s Bootcamp alumni and an advisory committee member of the James Beard House Fellows program—is a chef who believes in sustainably raised and thoughtfully prepared ingredients, as well as a racial equity advocate who has dedicated her career to fighting for food justice in Black and low-income communities.

Emerging Leadership: Understory
Oakland, CA
Understory—developed by Understory Worker Collective in collaboration with the nonprofit, Oakland Bloom—is a worker-cooperative restaurant, bar, and shared kitchen based in Oakland, California. Understory is a non-traditional restaurant space and community hub that is collectively run with Oakland Bloom, offering affordable kitchen space, free and sliding food distribution, mutual aid, business training, and mentorship programs for immigrant, refugee, and historically marginalized communities. The collective’s values include uplifting communities of color, building economic sustainability, and supporting environmentally and racially just food systems, amongst others.

Read the full press release here. 

Learn more about the JBF Leadership Awards.

Want to be the first to know about Beard Awards news? Subscribe to the James Beard Awards newsletter.