An Open Letter to the Food Babe: A Response to the Response to the Criticisms of the Attacks on Food Science

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
– Not Mahatma Gandhi

Ahhh, Food Babe. Where do I even begin?

Until a couple months ago, I didn’t even know you even existed. I was content researching and correcting dubious health and nutrition claims without bothering to learn where they originated. That all changed in August when meme after meme detailing the “toxins” in Starbucks lattes invaded my personal cyberspace.

“Pumpkin spice lattes don’t contain pumpkin!” they said.

“Caramel coloring is a carcinogen!”

“Monsanto milk!”

I had to investigate because surely this had to be satire. You and I both know what I found–the holy grail of bad science, woo, conspiracies, and bravado. I was in skeptics heaven. Too bad I was somehow already blocked from commenting on the your Facebook page.

Fast forward to yesterday (6 December, 2014), when you posted this brilliant philippic. Your decrial of legitimate criticisms, intended to create a narrative of martyrdom, has served only to expose seeming narcissism, conspiratorial thinking, and total lack of critical thinking skills which all lead to a near-unmatched persecution complex. Let’s explore this, shall we?

You begin your diatribe highlighting your adventures in racketeering and how you and your army have forced companies you don’t even patronize to become more transparent. Apparently the public has a right to know things it doesn’t understand or care about because that’s all these “activists” have accomplished. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hasn’t benefited from knowing that azodicarbonamide was in Subway’s bread or that isinglass is used in the beer-brewing process, but now I know these things and I’m angry for it.

But I digress. These “accomplishments” are just an introduction to the real issue at hand. You’ve been criticized and believe that people totally shouldn’t do that. After all, you spend minutes and minutes investigating hard-to-pronounce words during your vacations. And if you aren’t telling people what to eat, who will? Doctors and dietitians? Please. If you’ve taught me anything, anyone who disagrees with your assessments is a paid shill and cannot be trusted.

With this much game-changing activism and success in a short period of time, it comes as no surprise that some powerful corporate executives and some “independent” voices they help to finance, disagree with our work. An intelligent debate is welcomed, but not all the discussion has been civil.

There’s a group of aggressive scientists, biased doctors, skeptics, agribusiness publicists, lobbyists (and their anonymous webpages and social media sites), along with in some cases, well intended but misinformed people (influenced by propaganda) attacking our work, other consumer advocacy groups, my partners, my friends and me, personally.

Now, while that is obviously a ridiculous claim, you do make a legitimate point about some of your “critics” that needs to be addressed. Misogyny, rape and death threats, racist and personal attacks have absolutely no place in this or any other debate. You’re a person just like any of us. You just happen to say incredibly ignorant things unashamedly, but you don’t deserve to be threatened by anyone for any reason. Anyone who’s done such things is not welcome in the Shill Army. Anyone who can’t criticize ideas without trying to demean the person expressing them isn’t prepared for adult discussions.

So, Vani, on behalf of the Shill Army, I want to apologize for threats coming in under our banner. We don’t condone or encourage that type of behavior and never will. That being said, your misrepresenting all criticism against you as hateful, violent, or the work of shills means this is the one and only time I will apologize for anyone else. Moving on.

What they say: I’m not an expert because I am not a scientist or doctor or nutritionist.

Truth: There is an old saying, “these issues are too important to leave up to the experts.”

Sigh… First of all, nutritionists aren’t experts of anything but bullshit. It’s not a protected title. Literally anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist, but that’s not even relevant to the problems with this sentiment. The only people we should trust with our health are experts. They actually know what they’re talking about. I can’t even begin to understand what you mean by this because you goes on to say, “On a regular basis, I seek the counsel of many credentialed experts in this field and present my data which often includes access to published, peer-reviewed research.” What?! Do we trust experts or not? Maybe putting that into context can help clarify.

[A] high percentage of the “expert” scientists, doctors, registered dietitians and nutritionists in this field have a financial relationship with the entities I investigate. They oftentimes are unwilling to disclose where their funding really comes from. Some use their credentials to promote and market new inventions by the food industry.

Oh Vani. This is what we call confirmation bias and ad hominem. Experts aren’t incorrect just because they disagree with you. Published researchers, if they want to pass the smell test and be taken seriously, devote a section of their paper to divulging any potential conflicts of interest regarding funding. Blatant dishonesty like this does nothing to serve your purpose. By the way, constantly implying that your detractors have been paid to do so qualifies as attacking the messenger. Maybe stop doing that and people will take you seriously.

What They Say: Our findings are based on pseudoscience or we hate science and we are “fear mongering”.

The Truth: If our findings didn’t have any concerns, do not have a solid basis in fact, why are companies willing to drop these controversial chemicals?

There’s an old quote that goes “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” It’s pretty relevant to your question here. As you probably know, image is very important to all businesses. I suspect that’s why you keep your Facebook page clear of criticisms. And I’m sure that you don’t warn corporations before you release the findings from one of your investigations. You establish their position for them (hiding something nefarious) before they even know what’s happening. Of course it’s easier to just give you what you want than it would be to spend massive amounts of money on PR campaigns trying to re-educate and regain the trust of consumers. We call this poisoning the well. Pretending like it’s anything else is just disingenuous.

You then go on to list a handful of advocacy groups and a couple of doctors. Appeals to authority will get you nowhere, Vani. You’ve already discounted the expertise of experts, listing known peddlers of pseudoscience and fear-mongering and presenting them as experts is the emptiest of gestures.

What they say: The phrase “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it” is not scientific.

The truth: I didn’t come up with this clever phrase, but think it’s great advice.

This is terrible advice. There’s no logic basis for it. Gamma-guandinobutramide, polygalacturonase, 4-hydroxymethylproline, and quercetin-3-o-α-arabinofuranoside are just four of the ingredients in an organic apple. Are you going to stop eating them now? If not, will you explain why?

What They Say: The dose makes the poison and food additives are safe.

The Truth: That food industry orthodoxy is outdated and dangerous.

This actually shocked me. Dosage is the cornerstone of medical science.  It’s a very meticulously derived measurement. ED50, TD50, LD50, LC50, and LCt50 are not terms that just appear out of thin air. Our understanding of dosages is why we know we’re able to eat pears with being poisoned by the formaldehyde content or bananas without dying of radiation poisoning. To make it more personal for you, Vani, this is why you’re able to drink your wine, which contains known carcinogens, without developing cancer immediately.

Food additives work on the same principle. You pick on propylene glycol as this horrible ingredient because it works as an anti-freezing agent, but neglect the fact that salt does the same thing. Hell, antifreezes are made using water. I doubt you’d tell anyone that’s a dangerous food additive.

What They Say: I have an eating disorder.

The Truth: Deciding to opt out of the “Standard American Diet” is not an eating disorder.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard this one, but you’re probably right that such a claim wouldn’t be made regarding a man. What I have heard, though, is that your followers may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa. I’m not a doctor or dietitian, so I can’t nor will I make claims like that, but there’s information about it here, here, and here.

And, hey, if eating what you eat is making you happy and healthy, then keep on keeping on. Just realize that you, Vani Hari, are not a nutrition expert. What works for you probably won’t work for others. I only say this because I see many, many people asking your advice from what foods to eat to what drugs to take, and it scares me to think that, in your limited knowledge, you could inadvertently lead someone to unintentionally harming themselves. Believe it or not, the health of others concerns us “shills” too. All I ask is that you be careful, and always make sure to refer advice seekers to a professional.

I will consult, but get one thing straight; I am not a corporate spokesperson. I will not be restrained from overtly criticizing or challenging any of my past or current clients. You can buy my advice but you can’t buy my likeness, my logo or my endorsement.

 

I’ll admit it. My microwave blog post was not my most impressive piece of work. When I wrote it, I just started blogging and wanted to share several opinionated reasons why I avoid microwaves. My detractors would rather have you talk about this irrelevant blog post (that is over 3 years old and removed from my site) than any of the food research and investigations I am uncovering.

If old, retracted posts are irrelevant, it would behoove you not to reference old, retracted studies like the ones done by Gilles-Éric Séralini. Don’t ask us to ignore something obscure then only reference to obscure research done by biased outliers.

What they say: I ban anyone that disagrees with me on social media

The truth: I give my moderators full authority to delete comments and ban insulting, harassing, or cyberbullying commenters.

There are several groups that condone violating social media platforms terms of service by allowing their members to create fake profiles and new pages to harass me and others who challenge the status quo and the food industry. My team is given the ultimate authority and discretion when they are monitoring comments on the blog or on our social media. If you are part of the hate groups that personally attacks me (or anyone else), are vulgar or insulting, use profanity, threats, or use impersonation, your comment will be deleted and/or your profile banned, it’s very simple.

This policy is very similar to other reputable websites – even The New York Times.

I think of my blog and social media pages as my home. I will let anyone in my house, act inappropriately they will be asked to leave. A healthy debate is fine, but someone can make their point without stepping over the line and becoming abusive. 

This is a lie and you know it, Vani. I was banned from your page before I even knew it existed, and I know plenty of others who were blocked without ever making a comment. And to accuse Chow Babe, Food Hunk, Science Babe and the other Shill Army pages of condoning threatening behavior and of being hate groups is hyperbolic, untruthful, and one of those ad hominems you dislike so much. None of us hate you. We disagree with your message, your tactics. We criticize your research and conclusions. We poke fun at the things you say. But we do not hate you. You’re a public figure now. You’re going to face criticism and lots of it, especially since you’ve tried to take on the scientific community, a community that only exists to rip every conclusion that’s ever been reached to shreds. If you can’t deal with it, then you may want to rethink your career choice because we aren’t going to let up just because it might hurt your feelings.

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
– Not Aristotle
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6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Food Babe: A Response to the Response to the Criticisms of the Attacks on Food Science

  1. Excellent response to Food Babe’s long complaint about being persecuted. I agree with her assertion (and yours) that no one should resort to misogynist or hateful comments, and that ad hominen attacks do little to advance the cause of those of us are concerned about the ocean of pseudoscience, misleading advice, and dietary misinformation that Vani (FBabe) Hari propogates. But she needs to wise up to the fact that she is being scrutinized by the scientific community — and when it comes to a battle of intellect, wits, and a committment to unbiased debate based on empirical knowledge — she (and her ‘army’) has lost. I’ve shared your post on FB. Thanks.

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  2. Ah, now, you know some people just can’t deal with proven facts and it appears that Food Babe can’t or won’t believe the scientifically proven facts. I have a relative, colleagues and friends that are well educated that ”eat up” Food Babe’s words. They are the same people who send undocumented facts about politicians and thrive on the latest news of the stars. I keep referring them to Snopes.com. Some of them are amazed when the facts prove to them that they are being manipulated. Food Babe is thriving on her words. I don’t know how well she will do when she has to eat them. Wait, she’ll be fine because her criticisms are either invalid or only partially proven. And why does she appear to be so healthy when I’m sure she grew up eating the same foods she criticizes.

    Like

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