You may have never heard of a woman who calls herself, The Food Babe. Her name is Vani Hari and she’s really only a big thing in certain circles of food-
privileged conscious Facebook women, but you probably remember a big blow-up last year when she “exposed” Subway for having yoga mat chemical in their bread. There was a big collective, “So, that’s what that smell is!” heard around the world. If you’ve ever been in a Subway, you know exactly what I’m talking about. No disrespect meant to Subway — my kids love the subs. But seriously, what is that smell?
The Subway Yoga Mat Chemical Scare of 2014 put The Food Babe on the map and helped her brilliant online business model take off — which is to find a scary sounding chemical in a big company’s product and freak people out that it’s going to shorten their 80-plus year life expectancy. Then,
shake down petition the company to remove it and get lots of new followers and shoppers to the online store. It’s a magical formula, really. The problem is, she either doesn’t understand science or she’s getting her information from sketchy sources like Natural News (another online joint with a big store). And scientists and science advocates are sick of it. I mean, they have had it with her nonsense and they are coming out swinging.
The first big salvo fired was from a chemist with a fantastic gift for profanity named Yvette d’Entremont, otherwise known The SciBabe, which one assumes is her mocking poor Vani. SciBabe’s article, titled The Food Babe Blogger is Full of Sh*t, appeared on Gawker and quickly went viral. It was an epic, hilarious takedown that impacted Food Babe’s popularity for, oh… about a minute. Her followers, The Food Babe Army, adore her so it’s going to take a lot for her to lose them. There’s a new book out, however, that may actually cause some of her soldiers to defect permanently this time — if they’re willing to read it.
A book called The Fear Babe, Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House, is scheduled to be released just in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving, a season where Americans give thanks for their abundance by consuming massive amounts of candy and casseroles. Written by science communicator, Kavin Senapathy and co-authors, Marco Draco and Mark Alsip, it breaks down nearly every questionable Food Babe claim — and there are a lot of them so it’s a rather long book. From aspartame to yoga mat chemicals to flu shots and sugar — they address her bad science in meticulous detail — sometimes too much detail because I caught myself making a mental grocery list whenever there was a page with chemical formulas. The detail is necessary though and leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that the old Food Babe is playing fast and loose with scientific “fact” and more than likely making a pile of money doing it.
One could almost start to feel sorry for Vani Hari because it’s got to be humiliating to be called out like that in public. Almost but not quite. If it were just her getting some attention and making money off of a little corporate blackmail, I doubt anyone would particularly care. After all, those corporations are presumably run by grown-ups who’ve had enough high school assemblies to know how to handle bullies.
It’s also not that tragic if a bunch of people with extra money want to spend it on food that makes them feel daisy-fresh clean on the inside. Hopefully, they’re grateful for the immense privilege of turning their noses up at perfectly safe food. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the fact that she uses the little bit of power she has in her corner of the Internet to prop up the cancer quacks who prey on desperate people, that makes her fair game for a scientific smackdown.
In a section called “Ring a Ring O’ Roses” (have I been saying that wrong my whole life?), the authors address the support Hari gives to alternative cancer treatments. The Food Babe does not give out health advice without disclaimers but she is complicit in the promotion of potentially dangerous cancer therapies by recommending doctors and clinics with questionable reputations such as the Burzynski Clinic and Gerson Institute. According to the book, Gerson endorses a sometimes fatal drug called Laetrile, which is not FDA approved. Gerson Therapy also involves “juicing” as part of the treatment. And as luck would have it, the authors point out, you can go to the Food Babe’s online store and buy a juicer for $2495 (that’s not a typo) that, in her words, “is highly recommended for the Gerson Therapy.”
The authors go into details on the Gerson quackery and the real life and death consequences to the people who have followed it. Perhaps the Food Babe would be more sympathetic if she stuck to her corporate targets instead of aiding and abetting cancer-cure predators. Because, she’s got rabidly loyal fans, one of whom could make a life-threatening error in judgment by following her recommendations.
Even if you’ve never heard of The Food Babe, the book is still worth picking up as a good health and diet reference. The authors do a very good job at dispelling many fears and myths that have seeped into our culture about the food we eat because, as the author of the book’s forward points out:
“In all of human history, the food supply has never been more abundant, diverse, or safe. Think of your last meal. Many in the world today will live a full life without eating something that good.”
The Fear Babe is an important reminder for us this holiday season to have gratitude that we live in a society where $2500 (hopefully gold-plated) juicers exist and that we have such luxurious problems as worrying about what’s in the bread (or the reason for that weird smell) at a sandwich shop.