The Food Babe Way is a cult. The end.
Just kidding. Sort of.
As my readers know, I’m not exactly a fan of Vani Hari aka the Food Babe. I’ve said several times that I’m just going to ignore her, but like a junkie to his… well, junk, I have this urge to discredit everything about her. I’m not driven by the fact that 99% of what she says is wrong; it’s the culture of mega-dependent rubes she’s destroying with her Miscavigean tactics. I don’t think any of us would care that she exists if not for her terribly negative effect on her followers becoming increasingly incapable of any independent thought. I know I wouldn’t.
Banned by Food Babe is a group that’s gained some notoriety lately with mentions in several news articles about Ms. Hari. Their membership is approaching 6000 and reasons for being banned run the gamut from questioning her credentials to correcting her errors to just being friends with others who were banned. For a while now, I’ve been claiming I got banned for the latter but I recently discovered I was wrong.
Anywhoo, after watching Going Clear (which was amazing by the way. Everyone needs to see it or read the book.) I couldn’t help but think of how the Food Babe Army is like a neutered version of Scientology. I know it’s not a fair comparison to make; L. Ron Hubbard was fucking crazy and that whole cult is certifiable, but Vani Babe and her minions hilariously display all the hallmarks of a budding cult.
I found a list of cult characteristics, and the set provided by Rick Ross is the one I’m going to use to make my comparisons. Because I don’t know anyone personally who’s a member in the Food Babe Army, I’m not going to tackle the ten characteristics of cult members laid out by Ross. It would be unfair/inappropriate/baseless to even attempt that. The characteristics of a cult leader are relevant enough to the actions taken by group members that those ten areas are more than enough to make my point.
Am I exaggerating the seriousness of this or is my assessment spot on? That’s for you to decide.
Word, Rick Ross.
Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.
1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
Ha! We’re jumping right into this, I guess. I already mentioned Banned By Food Babe above. It’s well apparent that addressing critical inquiry is not part of Foo Boo’s daily regimen. Anytime a less than flattering article about her is published, she lashes out like a wounded or cornered animal. For some reason, I’m reminded of some other institution that freaks out when someone doesn’t sing their praises. Who could I be thinking of? Don’t worry, it’ll come to me.
This desire to keep all negativity at bay and exist in an echo chamber falls under the first sign of authoritarianism and lack of accountability. From what I’ve seen by following Vani’s social media presence, no dissent is allowed. Like at all. It’s weird.
I have my own page on Facebook. People can disagree with me all they want. I’m busy with life, so I don’t really have time to reply to every comment, but all the disagreements are still on my page. Why? Because my ego is not so frail I need to surround myself with unquestioning support. Yes, sometimes I get angry when questioned, but that’s usually a result of the tone taken by the questioner. The point is, I don’t wipe out opposition like I’m Joseph fuckin’ Stalin scrubbing the history books of all things that make me look bad.
But that lack of accountability also shows itself in another area – her endorsements. See, Vani’s entire business model is built on telling people how dangerous everything is. This is so she can sell them the solution to their heretofore unknown problem. The only problem with her scheme is that the products she hocks contain the same “toxic” ingredients she’s telling her woonies to avoid.
Mark Alsip has a running series that investigates all the Hari hypocrisy one can handle. Every time she rants against any chemical, I’m confident that BSD is going to expose her horseshit. It’s pretty great and Mark’s a much better writer than I am, so you should definitely check it out. FUD Babe gets taken to task for everything from food dyes to BHT. The lady is unscrupulous.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
I’m going to share an unpopular opinion on this. I don’t care if Vani Hari gets rich doing what she does. I just don’t. If people weren’t throwing their money at her, it’d be going to some equally ridiculous “cause” that benefits no one. I’d love to make money writing my dumb blog and running a Facebook page. That would be cool as hell. The only thing really standing in my way is my respect for ethics. Sure I make dirty jokes and do my fair share of name-calling, but I’m not scaring the holy fuck out of easily manipulated people just to sell my shit. Speaking of…
Besides, I don’t think anyone really cares how much money Food Babe makes. Six figures, seven figures, it doesn’t really matter to me. It is interesting how often she takes exotic vacations without really participating in the movement she backs though… Hmm.
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
Oh boy. This is like THE signature of the pseudoscience and woo crowds. Hell, Vani’s book is being billed as “The Book The Food Industry Doesn’t Want You To Read!” She even goes so far as to say this:
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.
That’s right. No one could possibly disagree with anything she says unless they’re being paid off. People like this rely on the shill gambit. It’s the only “rational” explanation for why others might think they’re *gasp* wrong. Science advocates couldn’t possibly be concerned that bad information will have a negative impact on the future of research. It’s all about the money. Some scientists make upwards of thousands of dollars a year. Thousands!
That’s such a bizarre way of looking at the world. I’m not very well educated in psychology, so I don’t know if this is normal behavior or the result of some sort of psychosis or what. One thing happens when I and my skeptic friends are called wrong. We ask for a citation, then we do further research, and if we realize we’re wrong by the end of said research, we change our minds. That’s crazy shit, I know, but I’ve seen the crazy motherfuckers do it. It’s like we learn shit or something. Who knew such a thing was possible?
5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
I’m not touching this with a ten foot pole. These blogs are meant to be entertaining but informative above all else. Mixed in with the snark, I hope there’s something there that teaches people. Regarding leaving the Food Babe Army, there’s just too many trolls out there saying things that can’t be backed up. This is a prime example of that, so I won’t be saying anything about points 5 and 6 other than check out the backlash received when Mark Lynas changed his mind on GMOs. It makes me wonder if people in the FBA don’t lose their shit when a friend stops buying into the hype.
7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
Where do I even begin? The eminently bad ass Science Babe just had this published on Gawker. Kavin Senapathy shits on Vani’s parades regularly. Kevin Folta, Steven Novella, NPR, and tons of others have written extensively about the fractal wrongness that leaks out of foodbabe.com. The Chow Babe and that beautiful bastard Food Hunk exist to parody everything she says and does. There’s no sense in going over that again, especially considering I’ve done my fair share of addressing her fuckery. Low hanging fruit, you know? Moving on!
8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.
9. The group/leader is always right.
10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
These are the facets of a cult that started me down this little rabbit hole. I would direct you to the posts on Food Babe’s Facebook wall, but she’s since deleted everything there and now requires admin approval. The sad sacks that follow her would’ve made you weep anyway. But don’t worry that you may miss out on all the fun. Because the members of Banned by Food Babe are so amazing and Chow Babe is my boo, I was able to put together the most depressing gallery of scared shitless unthinkers that I believe the world will ever see.
It used to be comment after comment of these people freaking out because they don’t know what they’re allowed to eat, drink, wear, or think about. They can’t go on the freakish orthorexic diet dreamt up by Hari because most people have real jobs that suck up all their time and money. It pisses me off. I used to think it was funny but then I realized these are real people obsessing over this nonsense. OCD is something I deal with everyday, but I feel like I’m obsession-free when I see the stuff that plagues these folks. It’s horrifying.
And this feeds into the “leader is always right” narrative. Throughout all the very public criticisms of dear Food Babe, her army still fights against the “haters” and “trolls.” It doesn’t matter that an entire movement has been based on one woman’s inability to pronounce polysyllabic words. No one seems to care that she rubs shoulders with nutjobs like Alex Jones and Mike Adams, or that their main cause is to battle against food security. I think that’s the truest signifier of a cult mentality – the dogmatic defense of a severely flawed ideology. It’s no surprise to me that more of Marshall Applewhite’s flock didn’t think he was a fucking loon prior to hitching a ride behind Hale-Bopp.
Thanks to Kim, Courtney, Dawn, and Lauren for all the screenshots. Your shill checks are in the mail.