Some of you may know Vani Hari, also known as the Food Babe. (I capitalized it so that you know that it’s special.) She’s a blogger who’s made herself a niche out of the process of going after major companies and demanding that they remove damaging and unhealthy ingredients from their products. Unfortunately, her grasp of science, what constitutes as evidence, and virtually everything else having to do with the stuff she demonizes, is minimal to nil.
Fobbly Bobbly’s M.O. is really all about herself. In the guise of transparency and making a healthier world, she goes after major companies. But rather than taking time to learn anything about nutrition, which would probably teach her that such an endeavor isn’t even wrong, she’s more concerned with her own brand and making a name for herself than about verifying her “evidence” or attempting to fight meaningful battles. She whips up ferocious rhetoric, convinces her followers to bombard these companies with demands, and then keeps it up until they cave. Her tactics are mob tactics, and her rule is carefully orchestrated to ensure that she gets all the credit.
She’s already convinced Subway to remove an ingredient (which hasn’t in any way proven to be harmful to humans) which was used in the preservation of their breads. She ignored the fact that, for example, it’s used in over 500 other products around the world, or that it occurs in such small amounts as to be completely irrelevant. Her reasoning? In the name of clean eating, anything in any way processed must be inherently bad, and since azodicarbonamide has a displeasing, chemical-ly-sounding name, it must be bad.
Her most recent target is the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice flavored latte, which she lambasts for… well, among other things, not having any pumpkin in it. That’s pretty silly, since the title “Pumpkin Spice” doesn’t actually imply that there’s going to be any pumpkin in it, just spice, and further I imagine it would be pretty weird to find someone mixing pureed pumpkin into their coffee. But her biggest gripes are with the fact that they use high fructose corn syrup (no more damaging than any other sugar source) as a sweetener and that they use a food coloring (caramel IV) which… drum roll please… supposedly causes cancer!
Of course, as with virtually every chemical in the world, the dose causes the poison. This well-circulated and handy infographic is useful in conveying the point. Yes, caramel IV has been linked with cancer… in doses so huge that they would be virtually impossible for a human being to consume on Starbucks coffees alone. Some are already circulating stats about the concentration with which it occurs in Coca Cola, pointing out that in order to get a significant enough dose, one would have to drink something like 37,000 cans of Coca Cola… daily, for a long period of time. One would die of obesity and/or water poisoning long before such an issue could become relevant.
In addition, the potentially carcinogenic agent in caramel IV is in fact found in coffee in trace amounts even before the addition of the food coloring, as are numerous other potentially carcinogenic agents. But as I’m sure you can understand by now, they occur in such trace amounts that they’re unlikely to add up to anything without significant overconsumption.
And then again there’s the point that this coloring appears in numerous products all over the U.S., and that it does so without being linked with significant issues. Why target a single company and lay the blame on them in a highly theatrical and self-aggrandizing manner rather than simply campaign to have the FDC look deeper into the issue and potentially ban it, even if it were harmful? Again, f00d berb’s logic is highly questionable.
Further, she has a history of extreme unwillingness to accept any criticism. Any effort to question her logic or methods is met with an immediate ban from her social media pages, including from people who are earnestly trying to understand rather than ridicule. If she does make any effort to justify her claims, it’s usually a single flimsy secondary source rather than a series of primary sources or a research review, since none such exist. She makes ad hominem attacks against her critics. In one case, she claimed that people were being paid 60 cents per post to attempt to discredit her. This makes little to no sense since the critics’ accounts are personal accounts and not spam bot accounts. In another, after Snopes debunked her Starbucks claim, she said that Starbucks had paid Snopes to turn against her as well.
Fid Bib’s stance on nutrition is essentially just an extreme version of clean eating, taken to its maximal (and most contradictory) limits. For Fad Bab, anything which isn’t grown or raised isn’t natural, and is thus unclean and clearly causing our poor health. It’s a simplistic, black and white theory that ignores the fact that many “chemicals” are simply names that we’ve given to things that occur naturally, such as the numerous ones which exist in every single fruit and vegetable we grow.
Further, Fod Bob’s version of clean eating is the kind that misses the point entirely. True dietary changes are the result of paradigm shifts in eating patterns. Cutting out a single chemical in one single beverage isn’t going to mean much when it comprises perhaps 0.001 percent of the total diet, particularly since the pumpkin spice latte is a seasonal item. Why fight so much over it, then? There’s really no reason. She’s doing no one any favors.
The problem is, this is just the sort of food fearmongering that the whole clean eating paradigm can engender. Clean eating is an alternative to the standard diet, a change which can potentially be healthy. At the same time, it does so by creating a binary of “good” and “bad” foods, of which the dividing line is often extremely arbitrary or based in poor science. The demonization of bad foods is in itself a form of disordered eating, since virtually every food can have some place in the diet without having ill effects on the consumer. Clean eating works pretty well for those masochistic people who simply like to deny themselves things that they want, but for everyone else it can very easily become a harmful and self-destructive way of dieting if it isn’t taken up in the right way.
And that’s really the thing. Fib Bingo’s version of clean eating is so extreme that it not only completely misses the target, it goes rocketing off into outer space and doesn’t stop until it’s outside the whole galaxy. She’s not even wrong - meaning that this debate is so far off the mark that it’s basically just a meaningless waste of time for anyone with any real knowledge on the subject. It’s a diversion, an obsession which distracts us and drains our energy and focus away from the things that actually matter, like maybe learning not to suck down Starbucks lattes like water in the first place rather than simply taking out some food coloring.
My advice to F00d Blob is this - if you don’t like something, don’t eat it. Maybe write a blog post about it and try to convince others of your view. But certainly don’t go after these corporations over measly things like what food coloring they use. We’ve got better things to do, and more important things to care about.