Vani Hari, also known as the “Food Babe,” is a consumer advocate and blogger who made herself famous and even has a band of loyal followers called, “The Babe Army.” Hari looks into the additives and preservatives food companies put into processed foods. Consumers of late have been suspicious of Big Food, and the internet is proving a mighty platform for such activists to tap into that suspicion. Hari has had many victories. One investigation had cereal giant General Mills pull an additive from their production process. In another, Kraft decided to drop the once famous orange food coloring often used in its macaroni and cheese products. In yet another she got sandwich chain Subway to do away with azodicarbonamide which she famously said were also what yoga mats are made of. Hari is about to grow bigger. She has a book deal and will soon appear on TV. Yet some academics say she uses consumer fear to garner fame for herself, when many of the things she’s pointing out aren’t exactly dangerous for your health.
So is the Food Babe a bone fide activist or a career-minded attention seeker? Yale neuroscientist Steve Novella considers himself a crusader against pseudo-science. He calls Hari the “Jenny McCarthy of food.” Celebrity McCarthy claimed at one time that vaccines caused autism which has proven to be utter nonsense and perhaps one of the sources of the current measles outbreak. Opponents point out Hari’s campaign targeting beer makers for using propylene glycol or antifreeze in beer. But another blogger David Gorski uncovered that the real compound is propylene glycol alginate which is derived from seaweed. This is a foam sustaining agent. Though we should question what is in our food, most scientists say our food is safe. Detractors bring up that Hari has no degree in food science or nutrition and has no credentials to stand on when making such claims. Her response, “I’ve never claimed to be a nutritionist. I’m an investigator.” But food science experts say she is a distraction from more prescient issues such as junk food commercials geared toward kids, the environmental impact of our food system, the obesity epidemic, hunger, and food waste.