"There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever."
April 7, 2015 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She's also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by "breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life." She and her army are out to change the world.
--The "Food Babe" Blogger Is Full of Shit
posted by almostmanda (252 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do I get a free tinfoil hat with my purchase?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


God, no one mentioned the bovine secretions in my ice cream before! Now I'll never sleep!
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think that at this point, talking about the life-threatening dangers of nondescript "toxins" is a really good litmus test for someone trying to eventually scam you into buying something that doesn't have "toxins" in it.

Also: This drink is chemical-free!
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 7:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [40 favorites]


Well, I think the better term might be grifter. In the cult of true believers, the pool is full of grifters working the angles, and she's a very popular one.
posted by k5.user at 7:35 AM on April 7, 2015 [20 favorites]


Oh man! This was going to be my first FPP! Glad to see it, though.
posted by cooker girl at 7:36 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thanks for posting the Gawker article debunking Hari. It's important information. I first read about her on the Science Based Medicine blog. Her message is dangerous nonsense. I'm glad people like David Gorski have the energy, knowledge and passion to oppose her.
posted by feste at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is why everyone really needs to have basic scientific literacy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [53 favorites]


To kind of balance the world, here's The Nerdist podcast featuring James Randi.
posted by Huck500 at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Someone should tell this twit that the air in her head she breathes is made of chemicals, too. Sheesh.
posted by Gelatin at 7:42 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's dismaying how many bullshit itineraries include a stop at the Dr. Oz show.
posted by Flexagon at 7:42 AM on April 7, 2015 [51 favorites]


I replace the word "toxins" with "evil spirits" when reading this kind of nonsense.
posted by bhnyc at 7:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [119 favorites]


Oh man, this article from Joanna Blythman in the Guardian drove me NUTS for many of the same reasons. Rebuttal here.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

My rule? Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.


I like this lady.

Also, people who make their living by making people afraid make me question pacifism as a philosophy.
posted by Mooski at 7:46 AM on April 7, 2015 [42 favorites]


What the hell happened to critical thinking skills???
posted by Sophie1 at 7:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


I replace the word "toxins" with "evil spirits" when reading this kind of nonsense.

Thetans.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 7:48 AM on April 7, 2015 [36 favorites]


Science illiteracy is a major problem. But another part of the issue here is is food literacy -- many people don't really know where their food comes from or how it gets prepared. It makes it easier for people to try to pull this kind of crap, a la Annabeth Porter from Parks & Rec:

Also there’s a flirty trend in beverages. So you’ve had soy milk and almond milk, now try the hottest new craze: beef milk. It’s like almond milk that’s been squeezed through tiny holes in living cows.
posted by pie ninja at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2015 [55 favorites]


When I was in third grade, I doubt I could have pronounced lactobacillus delbrueckii, which means that apparently you shouldn't eat yogurt.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

Damnit, I was really craving some P'sketti. :(
posted by goHermGO at 7:50 AM on April 7, 2015 [87 favorites]


It's dismaying how many bullshit itineraries include a stop at the Dr. Oz show.

The mandate of the FCC is, in no small part, "for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications."

It may be worth reminding them of that.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


For a while, I was very close to writing a macro for Facebook, so I could just say, "actually, fish bladder protein (aka isinglass) is a traditional and pretty common beer and wine fining treatment useful for clarifying your drink" for all the times I'd see her article about how you won't believe what they are putting in your beer.

Now, I just block. She's a useful litmus test.
posted by gauche at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hari's apparently deleted article on air travel is, well, also full of shit.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


...some appearances on the Dr. Oz show...

This is my surprised face.
posted by Splunge at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is why everyone really needs to have basic scientific literacy.

But scientific literacy involves CHEMICALS!
posted by Kabanos at 7:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


The problem isn't so much science illiteracy, per se. These folks are not foolish not to believe that water is not a chemical or that salt can be chemically organic (in the traditional sense of the term, not the marketing sense). It's that many of these folks are just literate enough to know what the terms mean in at least a superficial sense, but then conflate their own literacy to mean they know better than the actual experts in the field.
posted by surazal at 7:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


On the gripping hand, there is a long litany of synthesized or highly processed ingredients that have turned out to be detrimental to health. I get pretty leery of someone bringing up the old "dihydrogen monoxide" story, as it's usually a prelude to discredit evidence-based proscriptions on some ingredients based on appeal to emotion rather than the evidence.

In short - Foodbabe is full of shit, but the science that says you should avoid excess sweeteners like sugar isn't. Understand where the flim-flam is coming from on either side of the debate.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [32 favorites]


Hari's apparently deleted article on air travel is, well, also full of shit.

Hooooooly shit. The very first "fact" in that article:

When your body is in the air, at a seriously high altitude, your body under goes some serious pressure. Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t. You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!

"Not even wrong" doesn't even come close.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:56 AM on April 7, 2015 [84 favorites]




Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t.

Everyone hates airports, and airports are basically giant airplane nests! Holy shit it all makes sense
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2015 [56 favorites]


In short - Foodbabe is full of shit, but the science that says you should avoid excess sweeteners like sugar isn't
I think the problem, though, is that she's exploiting a general (and correct) sense that there's a lot of crappy food out there and then using a lot of pseudoscience to misinform her audience. So yes: most of us should be eating less sugar, and I'm personally not that inclined to come to the defense of the pumpkin spice latte, although I think anything is probably ok in moderation. But that doesn't mean that "chemicals" are dangerous, that you shouldn't get a flu vaccine, or that you're better off eating no fruit than eating non-organic fruit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Hooooooly shit. The very first "fact" in that article:

How about this one:

"The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this!"
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [83 favorites]


Since I completely agree that the Food Babe is full of shit, I've been trying to figure out what makes me uncomfortable about the generally jeering tone of this piece, some of the comments here, and elsewhere. I think it comes down to this: what does it say about the food industry we've created that there is apparently a huge appetite for her nonsense? To put it another way: isn't it fascinating that, judging by the NY Mag link, if you follow all her untrue claims, you'll end up eating what is basically accepted to be the healthiest kind of diet?
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [24 favorites]


It's that many of these folks are just literate enough to know what the terms mean in at least a superficial sense, but then conflate their own literacy to mean they know better than the actual experts in the field.

The Science Based Medicine post linked above linked, in turn, to this NPR blog story that contained a telling quote from Hari:
...when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, "I've never claimed to be a nutritionist. I'm an investigator."
posted by Gelatin at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


airports are basically giant airplane nests!

If a small airplane crashes, do not approach it - you will get your scent on it and the mother may reject it.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [112 favorites]


But what's her position on DNA in food?
posted by acb at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.
posted by Ratio at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hari's apparently deleted article on air travel is, well, also full of shit.

"When your body is in the air, at a seriously high altitude, your body under goes some serious pressure. Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t. You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!"

Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahahahahahaha.

The pressurization of an airplane's cabin is to compensate for the lack of air pressure at high altitudes, so, you know, you have some oxygen to breathe. It's not even a full compensation; the pressure in an airplane at altitude is less than at sea level. That's why your ears pop.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is a great article that everybody who listens to people like the Food Babe will ignore.

I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.

Fuckin' A!
posted by bondcliff at 8:01 AM on April 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


In short - Foodbabe is full of shit, but the science that says you should avoid excess sweeteners like sugar isn't.

That's part of her specific bullshit, though... she says you should avoid refined sugars, but she also shills for a drink with tons of 'natural' sugar in it (42 grams/bottle), and that's just fine and dandy.
posted by Huck500 at 8:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [27 favorites]


I think it comes down to this: what does it say about the food industry we've created that there is apparently a huge appetite for her nonsense?

Says something about humans, not the food industry.
posted by Mooski at 8:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's not even a full compensation; the pressure in an airplane at altitude is less than at sea level. That's why your ears pop.

so you're saying that instead of being compressed, by body actually becomes depressed? it just gets worse!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [26 favorites]


oliverburkeman - 2 things.

1. she gets so much wrong amidst the small amount she gets right so while she may be spewing some facts here and there, a bunch of people go on to believe the falsehoods.

2. she uses fear to encourage change which is the worst and least effective type of long term behavior modification
posted by Sophie1 at 8:03 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yes, to clarify, I think she is a Thoroughly Bad Thing. I'm interested in the causes of the bad thing, though, and I don't think "she's a bad person" goes deep enough. There is a real problem here, to which she is responding in a disastrous and highly counterproductive way.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:04 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, I love the phrase "airplanes thrive". That is just precious.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2015 [53 favorites]


I think it comes down to this: what does it say about the food industry we've created that there is apparently a huge appetite for her nonsense?

It says marketing works. That's all she's doing, marketing with the tried and true FUD method. She has products to sell, and sell them she does.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%.

As much as 50% nitrogen? You don't say...
posted by Gelatin at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


If a small airplane crashes, do not approach it - you will get your scent on it and the mother may reject it.

Turns out that's just a myth, actually... the mommy plane will continue to care for her little piper.
posted by Huck500 at 8:06 AM on April 7, 2015 [24 favorites]


The problem isn't so much science illiteracy, per se. These folks are not foolish not to believe that water is not a chemical or that salt can be chemically organic (in the traditional sense of the term, not the marketing sense). It's that many of these folks are just literate enough to know what the terms mean in at least a superficial sense, but then conflate their own literacy to mean they know better than the actual experts in the field.

"The problem with dumb bastards is that they're too dumb to know there's a such thing as being smart." -Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by entropone at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


...when the Charlotte Observer asked her about such criticisms, Hari answered, "I've never claimed to be a nutritionist. I'm an investigator."

True, in the alternate universe where "investigator" actually means "scaremonger."

It just took me about 2 seconds to investigate the fact that air is only 21% oxygen.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, to clarify, I think she is a Thoroughly Bad Thing. I'm interested in the causes of the bad thing, though, and I don't think "she's a bad person" goes deep enough. There is a real problem here, to which she is responding in a disastrous and highly counterproductive way.

However you define "bad person," I do believe she is a conscious charlatan that is knowingly thriving off of the misinformation she peddles. That she may be improving the health of her followers is nice, but I'm not sure how relevant it is to her own motives.
posted by duffell at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I heard they don't even fully dephlogistonize the air in airplanes! Do you really want to spend hours in a metal tube full of inadequately dephlogistonated air?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [18 favorites]


The point is, she is clearly exploiting a deep sense that people have that the food industry does not function with their wellbeing as its first priority, and that there is much that goes on in the food industry that that industry has a huge vested interest in people not knowing (or thinking) about. She's certainly to be blamed for exploiting this situation with untruths to make money. But whose fault is the situation itself, and what are we going to do about it?
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


I just love her abortive fearmongering that the mean ol' airlines aren't giving their passengers pure oxygen to breathe. Sheesh.
posted by Gelatin at 8:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

My rule? Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.


Do you think the average third grader could pronounce "methylcobalamin" or "ascorbic acid"? Those things are better known as vitamins B12 and C. If you don't ingest those one way or another, you're going to have problems.

The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%.

You might be able to have a pure oxygen atmosphere in a plane, if you really wanted to. You probably wouldn't like it at all if you did.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.
Sure, there's the chance that such a thing could be possible, but just because a scientist can do something doesn't mean they should.

My success rate in having enlightening conversations with the "all chemicals are toxins" crazies is far far lower than with the "evolution is a hoax" religious crazies. They both are all about the moral panic, but just worship different gods. It's infuriating trying to squeeze in a bit of actual real knowledge past their information defenses. Actual real knowledge is perceived as poison if it contradicts anything they already feel.

Cathartic articles like this one are often a huge relief in the course of fighting the good fight.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:11 AM on April 7, 2015 [30 favorites]


Scientific literacy and critical thinking are easy enough to fake. Throw around some science-ey terms, sprinkle in some conspiracy thinking to show that you're a free-thinking maverick who'll cut through the lies and Show You How It Really Is and watch the clicks roll in.
posted by dr_dank at 8:11 AM on April 7, 2015


The discussion of scientific illiteracy and why people fall for ignorant bullshit like this woman peddles reminds me of this article on naive or folk theories and their persistence.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:11 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Christ, I hate this addlepated idiot. Either she believes what she says and is therefore a wilful moron, or she doesn't and is a scheming huckster. Either way she should be sent off on an ice floe, while we still have them.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


nitrogen is pretty hazardous. I saw a video where they used it to destroy a banana.
posted by thelonius at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's even worse than she says. The air pumped into airplanes contains carbon dioxide, which in large enough concentrations will kill you! It also contains some argon, which is used for welding. Do you want to breathe welding chemicals? I didn't think so...

Anyway, more seriously, the problem with a lot of these statements is that from a certain warped point of view, they're true. The pressure in an airliner at altitude does put a huge amount of pressure on your body. Just not as much as the air does when you're standing around on the ground.

And the airlines do know it would be expensive to pressurize with pure oxygen. They also know it would be stupid and dangerous (as the Apollo 1 crew could tell us if any of them had survived the fire), and that's why they don't do it, not because of the cost.

So for some of these it's not so much the facts that are wrong, as the conclusions that are not in any way supported by those facts. Which to me seems kind of worse, actually, since factual misunderstandings are usually easier to correct.
posted by FishBike at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


When I was in third grade I couldn't pronounce sfogliatelle or millefeuille, but I sure as shit will eat one of each of you put them in front of me.
posted by maxsparber at 8:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


the food industry does not function with their wellbeing as its first priority

What's funny is that people sort of get this about the large scale commercial food companies, but not the organic competition they wind up supporting. It's all about profit, whether they're making it with artificial flavoring and sweeteners or with kale.
posted by graymouser at 8:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


The point is, she is clearly exploiting a deep sense that people have that the food industry does not function with their wellbeing as its first priority, and that there is much that goes on in the food industry that that industry has a huge vested interest in people not knowing (or thinking) about.

Just because the food industry is not perfect, does not mean that all critics of the food industry are perfect (or right). The world just isn't black and white that way.
posted by Anne Neville at 8:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


The point is, she is clearly exploiting a deep sense that people have that the food industry does not function with their wellbeing as its first priority, and that there is much that goes on in the food industry that that industry has a huge vested interest in people not knowing (or thinking) about. She's certainly to be blamed for exploiting this situation with untruths to make money. But whose fault is the situation itself, and what are we going to do about it?

As much as this kind of thing makes my blood boil, I agree that, in the end, there are much bigger fish to fry. However, I also believe important gains like stricter consumer regulations on food manufacturers are actually made more difficult to achieve while this kind of scientific illiteracy is being passed off as legitimate watchdog criticism of big industry.
posted by duffell at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


Either she believes what she says and is therefore a wilful moron, or she doesn't and is a scheming huckster.

That NPR article had a quote from her that seemed to be getting at the subject:
Hari has brushed off such questions about her motivations and scientific proficiency. "I know that I'm doing the right thing," she told the Observer. "I'm trying to help people understand things that no one else has spoken out about."

As is so often the case, the answer seems to be "both."
posted by Gelatin at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


How about this one:

"The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this!"


Holy hell. This has got to be satire. Please tell me it's satire.
posted by indubitable at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


These Premises Are Alarmed: "Hari's apparently deleted article on air travel is, well, also full of shit."

From the article: "The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%."

Huh, down from the 78% in normal air? Jesus that's dumb.
posted by notsnot at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


The point is, she is clearly exploiting a deep sense that people have that the food industry does not function with their wellbeing as its first priority, and that there is much that goes on in the food industry that that industry has a huge vested interest in people not knowing (or thinking) about.

I would say it's more that she's exploiting a very deep-seated human impulse to use disgust at foods considered impure as a means of identifying in-group/out-group membership, and the unease that people have with the food industry happens to be a very fruitful avenue for that behavior to express itself in contemporary culture.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:20 AM on April 7, 2015 [37 favorites]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

So is this just any third grader, or can it be an advanced one? If I want to eat foods that are more common in other countries, can I ask a third grader THERE to pronounce the food, or am I stuck with words that are easy for English kids to pronounce (and French because I am in Montreal)? How deep into the food do I need to go -- all the ingredients? All the things that make up the ingredients? Do I need to use scientific names for everything?

The rule is underspecified.
posted by jeather at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


I would hope all 3rd graders can say bee twelve, otherwise we have a whole other set of problems.

And scientific literacy could probably use some science. Apparently scientists are in favor of more fracking at a rate higher than the general population. So if you want to drop some science on me, i really want to hear the rationale that concludes fracking is a good idea.

(point being a panacea built on Scientific Literarcy !1!!1 > a panacea built by this quack, but we all risk becoming blinkered by our prejudices)
posted by 99_ at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2015


Food Babe might be full of it, but the gawker story isn't exactly a scientific rebuke either.

It's filled with overly dramatic sarcasm without the details about why it might be okay to ingest a chemical found in yoga mats in Subway bread. It might be fine but I wasn't exactly reassured by the "OMG" style of response.
posted by destro at 8:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


I would say it's more that she's exploiting a very deep-seated human impulse to use disgust at foods considered impure as a means of identifying in-group/out-group membership, and the unease that people have with the food industry happens to be a very fruitful avenue for that behavior to express itself in contemporary culture.

Does 'bullshit artist' work? 'Cause that's a lot of big words you got there.
posted by Mooski at 8:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also I think what she's misunderstood with that nitrogen comment is the mixture of fresh and recirculated air. Because it is true that a portion of the air coming out of the vents in an airliner cabin is recirculated, often about 50% of it, and it would cost some fuel to use only outside air (since it needs to be compressed, which takes some power from the engines).
posted by FishBike at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Michael Pollan has his own issues but he can come up with a pretty good motto sometimes.
posted by delfin at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


"I'm trying to help people understand things that no one else has spoken out about."

Nobody has spoken out about the Interoceanic Fish Conspiracy to melt the polar ice caps via swimming in order to conquer us airbreathers. Ever since they took the Gordon's Fisherman hostage and forced the seafood industry to inject mercury and other mind control toxins into fish*, nobody has been brave enough to speak up.

I've urged people to listen to these totally logical truefacts, but because I could not be called "babe" under even the most loose definition of the term and the fact that They confiscated my notebooks of proof while I was sleeping under the docks last week, nobody will listen. It's up to you, FoodBabe.

It's up to you.

*These are the executed freedom fighters who the IFC have rounded up in a batter-dipped pogrom of deliciousness.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


My favorite, favorite part of all this is her article on the harmful effects of Microwaves, which has since been redacted from her site:

Last by not least, Dr. Masaru Emoto, who is famous for taking pictures of various types of waters and the crystals that they formed in the book called “Hidden Messages in Water,” found water that was microwaved did not form beautiful crystals – but instead formed crystals similar to those formed when exposed to negative thoughts or beliefs.... For the experiment pictured above, microwaved water produced a similar physical structure to when the words “satan” and “hitler” were repeatedly exposed to the water.
posted by JDHarper at 8:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [62 favorites]


And the airlines do know it would be expensive to pressurize with pure oxygen. They also know it would be stupid and dangerous (as the Apollo 1 crew could tell us if any of them had survived the fire), and that's why they don't do it, not because of the cost.

I admire the engineering that has gone into making aircraft fireproof enough to give survivors of a plane crash at least some time to exit the aircraft in the event of a crash. This woman's scientific illiteracy doesn't give her the intellectual tools to figure out that her "oh noes not pure oxygen" stance is a recipe for 100% fatality rates for every air crash ever.
posted by Gelatin at 8:26 AM on April 7, 2015


I would say it's more that she's exploiting a very deep-seated human impulse to use disgust at foods considered impure as a means of identifying in-group/out-group membership

This. An enormous part of the "clean eating" phenomenon has little to do with health/nutrition/biology, and everything to do with social signifiers.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:26 AM on April 7, 2015 [54 favorites]


The problem isn't that she is an idiot who says things. There are plenty of harmless idiots out there who say things idiots say. The problem is that she is saying idiotic things in media with a wide audience. It is the people who have handed the idiot a megaphone with whom you should be angry.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ugh, Food Babe reminds me of those artisanal nut milk douchebags.
Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

My rule? Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.
I believe the technical term for this is a TRUTH BURN.

To put it another way: isn't it fascinating that, judging by the NY Mag link, if you follow all her untrue claims, you'll end up eating what is basically accepted to be the healthiest kind of diet?

Well, I'm a longtime vegan who eats an extremely healthy diet, but I've still been dealing with the presence of orthorexics and orthorexia in my community for forever and a day. You just can't win with those folks, not until you're eating nothing but air and fruit that's fallen naturally from organically-grown trees. It's been a huge bummer to watch the "Basically Everything is Toxic" hucksters continue to gain exposure on a wider cultural level rather than being relegated to the margins where they belong.

TONS of vegans -- i.e. people whose diet largely consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes -- and even raw vegans (ew) yammer endlessly about "detoxing," using nebulous, all-encompassing definitions of "chemicals" in order to pressure themselves and each other into giving up even more foods than they have already. And they're all just sacrifices made on the altar of Detoxification, with no recognition of the fact that what they refer to as "detox" is literally exactly what your internal organs are made to do for you.

So many people (of all dietary preferences) are very quick to proclaim themselves "soy-free," "nut-free," "gluten-free," and "corn-free" not because of any actual food sensitivity or allergy, but because they read some article somewhere that labeled those ingredients as Toxins, and that's the end of the story, as far as they're concerned. It horrifies me to see otherwise perfectly intelligent people egging each other on to restrict their diets further and further still, like the foods you consume are pieces in some kind of game to prove who is the best at eating only the Right Things.

And rather than making general recommendations about health and wellness, people like Hari are just intent on lining their wallets by perpetuating and preying on the belief that there simply MUST be some kind of catch-all dietary decision we can make as humans that will purify our bodies and immunize ourselves from all forms of disease forevermore. I guess the desire to figure out how to live forever is an intensely human one, but weaponizing and exploiting that vulnerability in order to shill for branded products is frankly immoral.
"Go as far as telling the server you are allergic to butter and dairy, soy and corn," she writes. "Butter really isn't bad for you if it is organic and you use it in moderation – but restaurants can go crazy with it, adding several hundred extra calories you can live without."
I know it isn't good to hate, but I really, really, really hate it when people tell servers they're allergic to something when the truth of the matter is that they just don't want to eat it.

If I ask if there's (f'rex) dairy in a dish at a restaurant and they tell me there isn't, I take them at their word. They're bringing me food and drinks while I sit on my ass and laze about, it's the least I can do! Plus I'm not going to, like, lose at veganism if there's some butter in there anyway. It is what it is. But if I get so obsessed with Toxins that I choose to claim a host of false allergies instead, all I've done is made that restaurant more dangerous for people who actually do have allergies -- some of which involve bona fide anaphylactic reactions up to and including DEATH. Because the folks in the kitchen are, understandably, just going to roll their eyes and make a jerkoff motion as soon as the ticket comes back marked as needing to be free of a laundry list of seemingly random ingredients due to a diner saying they're allergic to all of them, up to and including refined sugar and inorganic (lol) salt.
posted by divined by radio at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2015 [84 favorites]


It's dismaying how many bullshit itineraries include a stop at the Dr. Oz show.

Dude wears fucking scrubs on a TV show to look more doctory - of course he's charlatan-friendly.
posted by Artw at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Does 'bullshit artist' work? 'Cause that's a lot of big words you got there.

Of course she's a bullshit artist, but the question of why so many people go for her particular line of bullshit is worth examining, although I do apologize for using words that a third-grader couldn't pronounce to do it.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


microwaved water produced a similar physical structure to when the words “satan” and “hitler” were repeatedly exposed to the water.

I believe this is absolutely true.

Also the words "kittens", "rainbows", "hugs", "metatalk".
posted by jeather at 8:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


I would hope all 3rd graders can say bee twelve, otherwise we have a whole other set of problems.

But what if it's listed as methylcobalamin on the ingredient list instead of vitamin B12? Does the different ingredient listing make it more dangerous?
posted by Anne Neville at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.

There was only one use of the word "fuck" in the approximately 50 paragraphs in this piece. Does "f-bomb" mean something different now?
posted by Hoopo at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Plus I'm not going to, like, lose at veganism if there's some butter in there anyway. It is what it is.

QFMFT
posted by murphy slaw at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


"I'm trying to help people understand things that no one else has spoken out about."

yeah see the thing about doing that is you actually have to know something.

Honestly whenever I heard of TFB, all I can think of is this. "I know something!"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:35 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Dude wears fucking scrubs on a TV show to look more doctory - of course he's charlatan-friendly.

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN INSIDE THE SCRUBS! I AM THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TELEVISION DOCTOR OZ!
posted by chambers at 8:37 AM on April 7, 2015 [24 favorites]


Shit like this just makes me so sad. On the one hand, yes, our food supply is deeply screwed up in a lot of ways. It's really hard to know where everything comes from or how it's treated, and it's natural to be concerned about that. On the other hand ... deliberately exploitative charlatanism.

Of course, most days I'm a cynical bastard who really does believe that people are mostly too stupid (stupid, not ignorant) to really understand most of what's happening around them, so I have trouble getting behind "more education" as a solution. Maybe I'm just a jerk.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2015


but because I could not be called "babe" under even the most loose definition of the term

She's actually using the scientific definition of "babe" which is "one who has ingested no toxins."
posted by almostmanda at 8:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


My brother in law is also one of these douchebags. He not only believes in the chemicals and the ions and the bad vibes in microwaves, but warns people of the chemtrails and sold HIS PARENTS a copper wire thingie to plug in and attach around their MATTRESS so that they are sleeping in an positive blah, blah fucking blah. He also sent his MOTHER to an "alternative medicine" clinic for her actual viral illness that came this close to killing her.

So, for anyone who was thinking that she's basically harmless - think again.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


My rule of thumb is never take seriously anyone who calls HERSELF a "babe." In the workplace, same thing with any self-proclaimed "ninja" or "rockstar".
posted by twsf at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


I just don't like lazy and overly confrontational writing that undermines the author's message, especially when dealing with such an important subject.
posted by Ratio at 8:42 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Food Babe might be full of it, but the gawker story isn't exactly a scientific rebuke either.

It's filled with overly dramatic sarcasm without the details about why it might be okay to ingest a chemical found in yoga mats in Subway bread. It might be fine but I wasn't exactly reassured by the "OMG" style of response.


The entire point of that was to emphasize the idea that simply stating that something is a chemical and that it occurs in something that is not food does not mean it is suddenly poison when it is in food.

It was preceded by the example of vinegar to illustrate the point, quite well I thought. In other words, it was highlighting how important critical thinking is for understanding how to properly ask questions about what we consume--it wasn't about whether or not the chemical at hand is a problem or not. As such I thought it was quite a good point, especially considering that critical thinking is the key thing that Hari and her followers are lacking.
posted by dubitable at 8:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


if anyone has personally been sprayed with pesticides before a flight, please email me, I would love to talk to you about it (not really).
In fairness to this scare-necdote, back in the '70s, '80s, and up until at least the '90s, passengers on all international Air New Zealand flights inbound to New Zealand were sprayed by cabin crew before disembarking the aircraft. Two cabin attendants would walk quickly up the aisle continuously spraying a can of insecticide over the each bank of seats before the seat belt sign was turned off and the doors were opened. It took a few seconds. Everyone accepted it as "that thing that happened on Air NZ flights." I assume other airlines did it too.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Seeing this on her blog, I keep hearing her in my own mind: "...and eat raw sprouts in your wraps, because sprouts are rilly, rilly healthy, including the pathogenic microorganisms like Salmonella and E. Coli that can't be washed out, but who cares, because it's not like they're chemicals..."
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I just don't like lazy and overly confrontational writing that undermines the author's message, especially when dealing with such an important subject.

And hyperbole can be even worse than the worst thing in the universe!
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


You just can't win with those folks

Yes, we can and we have. New misinformation comes up all the time, and it's a fresh battle, but progress is made. The worst thing is to assume there's no way to combat misinformation and to just give up.

Remember when arguments like these were made about people? I don't, because I wasn't born yet. It really happened though -- and probably happens still -- but that particular kind of misinformation has been dealt with.

One very real way is one-on-one talking. If you know someone who has trouble distinguishing pseudoscience from actual science, don't dismiss them. Don't make them feel like an idiot. Don't make them feel that they have to defend themselves from bullying, or from people who think they are stupid. They are not stupid. They are probably the victims of an educational system that treats kids as competitors with each other, and that leaves the non-winners to muddle through by memorizing test answers with no real comprehension.

Explain things. Explain why fructose is actually worse than sucrose. Explain that air always contains nitrogen (how else is anyone supposed to know that? Aristotle didn't know that.) Explain whatever you personally know about. Expect resistance. Expect to be dismissed. Then let the person leave and give them a chance to think for themselves. There's a very good chance that their beliefs will shift, just a little, when they are alone and not having to maintain face against someone who may have been a bit luckier, in some ways, in their childhood or college years.

You will not feel triumphant during such a conversation. Don't expect it, and don't get angry. Progress will be slow, but it happens all the time, and you benefit from such progress every day. That we can even talk about things like this is the fruit of years and years of people convincing other people to pay for science and math education even for the children of miners, farmers, and factory workers who were expected to just do more of the same as adults. How did that happen?
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [43 favorites]


What the hell happened to critical thinking skills???

When, exactly, was the golden age in which they flourished? Quacks and hucksters, alas, have always been with us and always easily found followers.
posted by yoink at 8:46 AM on April 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.

I am reminded of John Oliver's recent piece on government surveillance where he demonstrates, albeit anecdotally and for comedic effect, that New Yorkers don't care about domestic surveillance. That is, until he points out that the government can see their "dick pics." Then suddenly everyone is tremendously concerned and outraged.

It's the message that's important, not the language.

The moniker "babe" is proof of that. It is intended to imply subtly that her credibility is commensurate with her physical beauty. That is just how media executives want you to think, and that is why they give her air time.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


bad vibes in microwaves

Microwaves, whatever. But as far as I'm concerned, "bad vibes" in food are a thing. I used to work in a health food store kitchen, and the owner's belief was that the other cook could not play his Slipknot CD because it would put bad vibes in the food. I stand firmly behind him on that, and any other wackjob theory that might make Troy turn off his Slipknot CD while I'm in earshot.
posted by Hoopo at 8:48 AM on April 7, 2015 [42 favorites]


I bet it's possible to promote scientific literacy without dropping an f-bomb into every other paragraph.

I was going to make a joke about science and F-bombs, and H-bombs, but then I thought "What about G-bombs?" Wouldn't surprise me if the G-bomb had evaded discovery by man for many years, but googled it anyway, and lo the 2nd link was for Dr. Oz's website: G-BOMBS: Superfoods for Weight Loss and Longevity

In conclusion, bombs are a land of contrasts.
posted by Kabanos at 8:49 AM on April 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


Plus I'm not going to, like, lose at veganism if there's some butter in there anyway.


Careful, though- you still have to watch out for the Vegan Police. No vegan diet, no vegan powers!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:49 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Food Babe might be full of it, but the gawker story isn't exactly a scientific rebuke either.

Yeah, that was my take after a few paragraphs: seminformed columnist takes aim at fish in barrel. Nice frisson of snark but full of half-assed misdirected tropes like "dihidrogen monoxide" and linking to the dairy council's take on rBST. Yeah, gonna be linking to the natural gas industry on water quality and seismic stability next?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


There was only one use of the word "fuck" in the approximately 50 paragraphs in this piece. Does "f-bomb" mean something different now?

The destruction wrought by an f-bomb doesn't end with the explosion itself; certainly, there is great and obvious rhetorical devastation at the site of the actual ignition (known as "f-zero", from which Nintendo famously—and controversially—took the name for their post-war commentary racing series), but less obvious but no less insidious is the damage done by the f-wave radiation that spreads to outlying paragraphs.

These f-waves, invisible and capable of traveling through most words unimpeded (but not through a dense lede, which thankfully tends to protect neighboring articles at least in the event of a blast), leave radioactive sediment throughout the remainder of the text, so that even where the "f" itself does not appear, the integrity (structural and otherwise) of the work is compromised. The f-waves infiltrate all through-out the text; this phenomenon of "f all through-out" is, in fact, where we get the elliptical shorthand "fallout".
posted by cortex at 8:53 AM on April 7, 2015 [86 favorites]


My rule of thumb is never take seriously anyone who calls HERSELF a "babe."

The problem with this rule of thumb is that this take-down deserves to be taken seriously and it is written by The Science Babe.
posted by painquale at 8:53 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


she also shills for a drink with tons of 'natural' sugar in it (42 grams/bottle), and that's just fine and dandy.

"good spirits"
posted by Foosnark at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just don't like lazy and overly confrontational writing that undermines the author's message, especially when dealing with such an important subject.

I don't disagree, but on the other hand, the obsession much of the media has with so-called "balanced" reporting -- exemplified by the style of that NPR blog article I liked above -- can tend to dilute vital information under a vague cloud of qualifiers ("critics say" being a perennial favorite). Not to pick on that article in particular; it actually does a fair job of portraying her as a loon without coming right out and saying so -- but the "balanced" -- as opposed to objective -- style can also undermine the message.
posted by Gelatin at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


backseatpilot: ""Not even wrong" doesn't even come close."

Yeah, that's not just science illiteracy, that's just plain illiteracy.
posted by boo_radley at 8:57 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]




Seconding Sonny Jim. I got dusted on a United flight that landed in Auckland on its way to Australia back in '91.

As long as I'm here, let me jump on the pile: What an ass-ignorant fearmonger, just another icon for the Land of Make Believe.
posted by buzzv at 9:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


What the hell happened to critical thinking skills???

They got left behind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]



Explain things. Explain why fructose is actually worse than sucrose


Hey, I'd actually like this explanation. Is it? Any fructose, or just the "high fructose corn syrup"? 'Cause I thought fruits were good for you, at least in moderation...
posted by leahwrenn at 9:02 AM on April 7, 2015


And let's not forget that ice cream contains essentially the same pure ingredients as charcoal and diamonds. Watch your teeth, people!
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:03 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Speaking in my capacity as someone with the same degree as Food Babe, I assure you she is in fact full of shit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:03 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


The pressurization of an airplane's cabin is to compensate for the lack of air pressure at high altitudes, so, you know, you have some oxygen to breathe. It's not even a full compensation; the pressure in an airplane at altitude is less than at sea level. That's why your ears pop.

With the decreased pressure, your body expands to compensate: flying makes you fat!
posted by ennui.bz at 9:03 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not to encourage the traffic, but it looks like Food Babe has posted a response to the Gawker article on her site, which has about the same I'm Being Bullied to Actual Fact content ratio that you would expect.
posted by aranyx at 9:04 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Look, if your third-grader can pronounce "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" then "pyridoxine hydrochloride" (an ingredient in the box of oatmeal I just checked) is not going to slow them down. Julie Andrews is clearly part of the toxic food conspiracy.
posted by emjaybee at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here's another teardown article from Slate.
posted by eye of newt at 9:07 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reason is useless in changing opinions not based on reason.
I have several friends and family who are firm believers in this sort of dietary folklore. No luck in asking for evidence, discussing the science, etc. As long as "it worked for my/my friend/someone I read about" and "this fits my magical-thinking world view" are evidence for them, there is no convincing them.
posted by librosegretti at 9:11 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought this take-down was just a minor blogger war, but now I see that Time magazine named FoodBabe one of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet. So, it's good she's getting called out, given the nonsense she's been spreading.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I heard they don't even fully dephlogistonize the air in airplanes!

I can confirm this true fact.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


Fun to watch a lightweight self-promoter take down an imbecile, I suppose, but like watching Penn Gillette or bumfights you feel a bit soiled by the experience and nobody actually comes out looking good. If by contrast you want to see science takedowns done well, for good reasons, by a real scientist, consider reading, for example, Ben Goldacre.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:19 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


half-assed misdirected tropes like "dihidrogen monoxide" and linking to the dairy council's take on rBST

Don't forget deliberately obtuse literalism ('The word "toxic" has a meaning, and that is "having the effect of a poison."') and looking for dietary advice from the MSDS for sugar! This is not a cure for bullshit, it's just a different flavor.
posted by RogerB at 9:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


This woman is basically my dad. I think I should get my father on TV under the moniker "Grumpy Old Food Dude"* My dad is 75, has beaten cancer twice, and goes to the gym every day. He takes 50 vitamins and supplements a day, but won't take the heart meds his doctor prescribes him because "they just get kickbacks from the big pharma" . He will drive an hour out of his way to get organic produce, and stop at his favorite fried chicken spot on the way home.

I once mentioned that they have fried chicken at Whole Foods, and was informed that "they charge too much" despite the fact that he just paid $8 for 3 apples.

He eats a pint of ice cream and a piece of cake or pie every night, and has probably never been above 15% bodyfat in his life. And yet according to him the reason the rest of us are a bit on the chubby side is because we "lack discipline and eat too much junk food" He hates "chemicals" and the microwave, but buys most of his food out ot the Costco freezer section.

He recently switched from Soy milk to Almond milk because soy milk has "hormones" and will give you manboobs. His answer when my sister pointed out that he's been drinking soy milk exclusively for 20 years and he's yet to grow the slightest hint of titties..."You kids think you're so goddamn smart" and went to his room.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:27 AM on April 7, 2015 [40 favorites]


I don't know when "bullying" got hijacked to mean "disagreeing with me on the internet" but it's becoming another signifier of bullshit to me.
posted by almostmanda at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2015 [19 favorites]


I would like to see her paired up on teevy panel discussion with Jack Van Arks, because "Without chemicals, life itself would be boring . . . and impossible."
 
posted by Herodios at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2015


In my revolutionary fantasies, dietary scaremongers (and their enablers (e.g. Oz)) have their turns up against the wall much much sooner than the ultra wealthy and corrupt.
posted by Abon Sapi at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why choose? Plenty of walls for all. They'll probably moan and whine about the bullets being full of toxins though.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine posts her stuff, I asked him who pays her bills? It is ot Trader Joes, she goes after them all the time, it must be the competitors.
posted by Oyéah at 9:35 AM on April 7, 2015


The entire point of that was to emphasize the idea that simply stating that something is a chemical and that it occurs in something that is not food does not mean it is suddenly poison when it is in food.

A lot of people would like to think there are good substances that you can consume in any quantities you want, and bad substances that you should never consume in any amount, and any substance must be in one or the other of these categories. That's just not true. Food chemistry just isn't black and white like that. Unfortunately, black and white thinking is popular among humans, so it just keeps coming back up if you debunk one instance of it.

There's more black and white thinking here, too- natural food companies are good, industrial food companies are bad, therefore everything made by a natural food company must be good and everything made by industrial food companies must be bad.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:38 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd take "natural food" purveyors more seriously if they didn't relentlessly label white sugar as "evaporated cane juice."
posted by duffell at 9:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Why choose? Plenty of walls for all. They'll probably moan and whine about the bullets being full of toxins though.

I mean, they wouldn't be wrong, lead is seriously bad for you. Might as well be accurate while we're joking about murdering people on the internet.
posted by indubitable at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


A lot of people would like to think there are good substances that you can consume in any quantities you want, and bad substances that you should never consume in any amount, and any substance must be in one or the other of these categories. That's just not true.

Not even of water.
posted by Gelatin at 9:42 AM on April 7, 2015


Yeah, if you want to kill someone, shooting them with a little pill full of lead is a tried and true method.
posted by maxsparber at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2015


I think you'll find that most 3rd graders can pronounce lead, therefore it is a wholesome and beneficial thing to have in your body. And what could be better than a high-speed delivery system!
posted by poffin boffin at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [21 favorites]


I mean, they wouldn't be wrong, lead is seriously bad for you. Might as well be accurate while we're joking about murdering people on the internet.

err... the joke was about them missing the forest for the trees. You're getting shot with bullets until you're dead, toxins should be the least of your concerns at this point.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reason is useless in changing opinions not based on reason. I have several friends and family who are firm believers in this sort of dietary folklore. No luck in asking for evidence, discussing the science, etc. As long as "it worked for my/my friend/someone I read about" and "this fits my magical-thinking world view" are evidence for them, there is no convincing them.

Yup. Trying to explain to someone who insists they're, say, deathly allergic to MSG glutamic acid that there is no scientific basis in that insistence isn't a kindness, it's a fool's errand. They'll just blink at you and tell you that it's poison, like you've just gravely insulted their intelligence. And they'll whinge about Chinese food all the live long day, then mow down a bowl of broccoli topped with Parmesan cheese or a big slice of cheese and tomato pizza without a second thought (and, of course, without suffering any ill effects whatsoever... because glutamic acid is not an allergen).

So I have to give major props to the MeFite who suggested that I start referring to MSG (one of my pantry staples) as "fermented umami powder," because that simple rebranding works like a charm. For better or worse, it's been much more effective at defanging the "woo" than attempting to truthfully and factually convince all the people who truly believe they suffer from an allergy to MSG that they are, in fact, imagining things.
posted by divined by radio at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have several friends and family who are firm believers in this sort of dietary folklore. No luck in asking for evidence, discussing the science, etc. As long as "it worked for my/my friend/someone I read about" and "this fits my magical-thinking world view" are evidence for them, there is no convincing them.

I had a family member who was a woo peddler, and while I am entirely anti-woo myself, I have some sympathies with that way of interacting with the world.

The logic goes something like:
- Science is a thing operated by large institutions that have nobody's best interests at heart, and whose influences are opaque but usually involve powerful people's pockets.
- Most individuals don't have the resources to engage in science, whether by performing it or by verifying the results of it.
- Your community, family, or friend group are much more highly incentivised to retain your trust
- Thus, their experiences and recommendations are more useful than those of Government / Industry / Science

There's also a problem in that science education has often focused on teaching science as a set of knowledge about the world, handed down by "the man". A lot of people are completely unaware that science even is a process.

I know people who struggle to understand dietary advice because, while they may be very intelligent, they don't have the faintest idea what a carbohydrate is or protein or whether cheese has fat in it or how to assess the nutritional merit of a sausage roll. They do know that the popular press gets filled regularly with conflicting advice (is red wine good or bad? is margarine good or bad? who knows!). This is why user-friendly simplistic rules of thumb like "if you can't pronounce the ingredients don't eat it" are appealing to a lot of people.

Which is worse, being conned by the pharma-industrial complex or being conned by a local friendly magical organic rock talisman salesman?
posted by emilyw at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


In fairness to this scare-necdote, back in the '70s, '80s, and up until at least the '90s, passengers on all international Air New Zealand flights inbound to New Zealand were sprayed by cabin crew before disembarking the aircraft.

True, but I noticed that she specified "before a flight."
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2015


I've pretty much given up diet discussions during social situations, it's in the same boat as religion and politics now. I've had this party conversation enough times now that it's pretty much scripted:

Me:
"There is some, relatively weak, evidence that some artificial sweeteners MAY increase risks of some cancers or conditions BUT there is MASSIVE evidence that natural sweeteners are much, much worse and you should really watch your intake, if that means replacing real sugar with fake sugar you are likely still making a much healthier choice."

Anyone:
"Riiiight... ok... but artificial sweeteners are all chemicals, they cause cancer, I use unrefined sugar."

Repeat with 90% of people that I talk to, and these are not stupid people.
posted by Cosine at 9:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


(but not through a dense lede, which thankfully tends to protect neighboring articles at least in the event of a blast)

Especially if it's constructed using leaden prose in a Heavy Rhetoric matrix.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2015


I'm a little puzzled by some of the flack the linked piece is getting:

misdirected tropes like "dihidrogen monoxide"


"Misdirected" how? The Food Babe is saying in so many words that "There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever." The "dihydrogen monoxide" trope seems perfectly apt.

linking to the dairy council's take on rBST


The Gawker piece doesn't mention rBST.

deliberately obtuse literalism ('The word "toxic" has a meaning, and that is "having the effect of a poison."')


If this is being "deliberately obtuse" what is the rational, well-defined meaning of the word "toxic" or "toxin" as used by the Food Babe which she's deliberately ignoring?

looking for dietary advice from the MSDS for sugar!


Speaking of being "deliberately obtuse." She doesn't say "take your dietary advice from the MSDS!" She says calling a certain small quantity of sugar a "toxic dose" is absurd and uses the MSDS to support the point.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yup. Trying to explain to someone who insists they're, say, deathly allergic to MSG glutamic acid that there is no scientific basis in that insistence isn't a kindness, it's a fool's errand.

Oh God this. I was out for sushi with some friends a couple years ago, and a FOAF said primly that she couldn't have the soy sauce because it contains MSG. She then went on to scarf a bowl of miso soup and a bunch of maki. So I asked how she was feeling a couple times, she finally asked me why. I said, "well you said you're allergic to MSG--which is present in high quantities in both the seaweed and the miso soup."

"..."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm pretty sure billyfleetwood's dad is the best thing to come out of this thread. And has been done a huge disservice by the comparison -- I think I would like him. Unlike the subject of this article, or its author.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:57 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ach, this crap drives me nuts.

The worst is that we need to be suspicious and questioning of our food and medical industries. Because they're poisoning us wholesale? Not at all - there is probably no time and place in history that you are less likely to be poisoned by your food and drink than in a first world country in 2015.

But the reason we got to this exalted place is precisely because a lot of intelligent people asked skeptical questions about the food they were eating. So in theory I'm all for asking questions, even if sometimes you're wrong, because better safe than sorry...

But then someone like this breaks my theory. I think the real problem is that my hypothetical interrogant is someone like my better conception of myself... "See here, old bean, I've done the lab work several times, and I fear there might be a spot of bother with that DDT stuff of yours. Let's go through the numbers together, shall we?"

The worst is that there are serious problems with some "chemicals" and they get covered up with noise like this.

The most recent example is neonicotinoid pesticides - which are almost certainly the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD), the death of the bees. You would THINK that everyone (except Beyer) would be happy that we've identified the problem AND that it's a "chemical" (and one that can be replaced)!

Except one of the latest Facebook drivels is from some "MIT scientist" blaming everything on glyphosate - including CCD. I want to shout, "NO, big win here on neonics, and now you're saying it's not so? Must we apologize to Beyer? Don't you read the stuff you post??"

I don't have any great trust for large corporations. I'm sure Monsanto or any of these companies wouldn't hesitate to risk my health if they thought they could make a few bucks and get away with it. I want to have people in adversarial relationships with the chemical industries regarding health consequences, but I want the watchmen to be skeptical scientists - this blanket shitthrowing just clouds the actual truth.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Plus I'm not going to, like, lose at veganism if there's some butter in there anyway.

Oh, I'm pretty sure the vegan police show up and you lose your vegan powers like telekinesis.
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


If this is being "deliberately obtuse" what is the rational, well-defined meaning of the word "toxic" or "toxin" as used by the Food Babe which she's deliberately ignoring?

Oh, come on. The Food Babe clearly means "bad for you" when she says "toxic" and it's tiresomely pedantic to pretend otherwise. Her nonsensical ideas about what is bad for you are of course entirely worth arguing against, but this Gawker piece is nonetheless extraordinarily lazy and dumb, and taking lazy and dumb potshots on behalf of "science" in the service of recreational culture warring is not really that defensible an activity.
posted by RogerB at 10:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Toxic" and "bad for you" has never been equivalent in my mind, colloquially or not.
posted by kmz at 10:06 AM on April 7, 2015 [21 favorites]


I really want to bring back miasma theory with a slick modern website and a tour of the Dr. Oz/Phil/Oprah/Tyra/Fox Friends/Beck circuit.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:08 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


People who believe in foot toxins are the target market for those footpads that turned black when attached to your feet or the $400 fruit juice fast. To get out all the toxins!

There's a clear distinction between keeping food safe (as in not full of rat poison, shards of glass, or salmonella) and keeping food clear of things that sound scary when given a scientific name. The FDA is already overstretched and lacks real authority or resources to do its job as it is, now they have to spend time chasing after these purity of essence people's fantasies, too.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Food Babe clearly means "bad for you" when she says "toxic" and it's tiresomely pedantic to pretend otherwise.

I really disagree. I think she literally thinks certain things are poisonous. Not like, snake venom poisonous, but like arsenic poisonous.
posted by GuyZero at 10:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Food Babe clearly means "bad for you" when she says "toxic"...

"This Big Mac is bad for you."
"This Big Mac is toxic."

"This sewage is bad for you."
"This sewage is toxic."

Spot the difference.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 10:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Bad for you.

Toxic.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Toxic" and "bad for you" has never been equivalent in my mind, colloquially or not.

Exactly. Lots of things that are good for you are toxic in sufficient quantity.

Which is the idiocy of Hari's position. Her stance that no amount of so-called "toxic" chemicals is acceptable, and the implication that one can go hog wild on the substances she peddles recommends, ought to be ridiculed because it is ridiculous.

This discussion reminded me of a passage from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's modern adaptation of Dante's Inferno. The protagonist discovers a health nut in the Circle of Gluttons, outraged at his being placed among other, more traditional gluttons, when the narrator's companion points out that it's the excess, not the nature of the excess, that condemned him.
posted by Gelatin at 10:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


From her response (emphasis mine):
the author says I’m full of $hit, but I’m full of heart, love and hope for a better future, and I know you are too.
And I'm like, "I could be Hitler for all you know!" But of course that's why people fight so hard to maintain these beliefs: because they've been told it's something that makes them a better person.


George_Spiggott: "Fun to watch a lightweight self-promoter take down an imbecile, I suppose, but like watching Penn Gillette "

What I think feels off with the takedowns sometimes is it also feels like an attempt to flatter me because I know what dihydrogen monoxide is or whatever. I'm not really learning anything, I'm just getting a pat on the back that I was already right.
posted by RobotHero at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think she literally thinks certain things are poisonous.

There's a specific use of "toxic" in question here, from this:
Order up a non-fat grande and you’ll get served 50 grams of sugar. Is it a pick-me-up from the caffeine, or all that toxic sugar?
Even granting that she abuses toxicology and vague toxin-fears so much elsewhere in her bullshit-spewing that this is a little more dubious in context than it might seem here, I still don't see how anyone could read this as literally claiming that sugar is a poison. And while it also seems entirely possible that the Food Babe actually doesn't know the difference between "bad for you" and "literally poisonous," the way you show that that's bonkers is not to go look at the MSDS.
posted by RogerB at 10:16 AM on April 7, 2015


I live in an area where this type of thinking is mainstream/dominant and it often makes me afraid to eat out at restaurants. In the most stringently anti-GMO, organic, local, blahblah establishment in our town (recently closed because enough of us are unwilling to pay $6 for celery), I witnessed terrible handwashing practices behind the deli counter. Because bleach is "toxic," the bathrooms were filthy. People have really cavalier approaches to actual toxins, such as those produced by e. coli and salmonella and other pathogens that thrive in fecal matter, and it is very frightening from a public health standpoint.

And it goes without saying that they tend to be spotty with vaccinations. Public health really takes a hit when we decide how to be clean and avoid disease with our emotions.
posted by witchen at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [32 favorites]


RogerB: I think that the actual meaning of toxicity, and how it works, are kind of important. I understand that with descriptivism our language is a free for all of common meanings, but when it comes to concepts that tell us what is life threatening and why, I think there is reason to be a bit stodgy about pedantic definitions.

The MSDS for any chemical is absolutely the place to go to find out if your dosage was toxic or not. And it's not substances that are toxic, it's dosages.
posted by idiopath at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


Oh, come on. The Food Babe clearly means "bad for you" when she says "toxic"

No, she really, really doesn't. That's why she has all the emphasis on "detoxifying" your body. She thinks we are taking in "toxins" all the time and that we need to remove them from our bodies. It is badly misrepresenting her position to suggest that she's just offering commonsense diet advice ("hey, don't eat too much of that!") and using sloppy language while doing it.
posted by yoink at 10:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


The refusal to define "toxic" or "toxin" is part of the complaint about this variety of woo. Since no definition is ever agreed on, no claims can ever be proven false.
posted by almostmanda at 10:26 AM on April 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


Yeah, there's nothing defensible about the misuse of "toxic". Anyone who doesn't eat sugar because it's "toxic" but happily eats tomatoes (which actually are) might want to crack a book some time. Sugars and simple starches should be eaten in moderation for straightforward metabolic reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with toxicity. And if you do a "cleanse" for sugars you're wasting your time; their most salient property is how quickly your body polishes them off completely.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, interesting: Hari's "toxic sugar" links to "It's the Sugar, Folks" by Mark Bittman, in which both the usually sensible Bittman and an apparently sane endocrinologist assert that "sugar is toxic" in the literal sense, and suggest that the FDA define a safe maximum dosage for it. I think you guys are right and I was wrong — she may well have meant it literally.
posted by RogerB at 10:35 AM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because bleach is "toxic," the bathrooms were filthy.

Arrrgghhh. Of course bleach is toxic; that's the whole point. It's toxic to bacteria, too.
posted by Gelatin at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


This discussion has been making me think: as I said above, I have a lot of friends who believe all the medical and dietary folklore, and discussions with them haven't been productive or pleasant.
Their attitude is "this was recommended by a friend/family member/person who seems really nice and friendly", and that seems to be a good reason to try some supplement or practice. They spend a lot of time reinforcing each other. Anecdotes make them feel more sure and they believe more.
All the magazines and articles are happy to report "a study says wawa-fruit helps reduce inflammation/has anti-bacterial effects/reduces the risk of cancer". Any studies (usually much better ones) that say otherwise are discounted and ignored. Any evidence that something doesn't work is dismissed.
When I have these conversations, we aren't using the same rules of evidence or discussion. What I see as conclusive proof means nothing; they see me as someone blind to possibility and unable to give credence to their actual experience. Even when it seems something has been proved, nothing changes in terms of behavior.
Given that I think most of us would like to help people avoid utter BS, possible harmful practices, and not channel a great deal of money to charlatans and self-deluded gurus, how can this be done? Has anyone had any success in talking this over with believers? What kind of conversations have had an affect?
posted by librosegretti at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2015


Oh, come on. The Food Babe clearly means "bad for you" when she says "toxic"

Not that "bad for you" is a useful concept when talking about food and diet, either.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:38 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's almost like a false flag operation, the way she take the good idea of "pay attention to and think about what you eat" and wraps it in so much baloney. I don't actually believe it is, but it looks exactly like one. There's probably some generalization or corollary to Poe's Law that covers this.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Whoa, SHE wrote that shitty beer article? That horrible piece of shit was the bane of my existence like a year and a half ago.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:40 AM on April 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


Airplane biology is weird. Airplanes seem to be birthed from a mother in an aquatic phase called an "aircraft carrier." Then sometimes an airplane gives birth to a parachute with a human tangled in its umbilical cord.

They also mate on the wing, best I can tell.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Blogger culture is weird.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:59 AM on April 7, 2015


I'd sooner take nutritional advice from Babe Ruth.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


mmmmmmmm, hot dogs
posted by JanetLand at 11:02 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found out I might be mispronouncing risotto. Time to go on a cleanse.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:05 AM on April 7, 2015


In college I worked at a grocery store with a guy and we had many conversations like this, but this is the one that was BURNED into my brain. We had gotten some kicked down bread from the bakery because it was ugly, and wouldn't sell. Nothing wrong with it, it was just misshapen. This was also several years before 'gluten-free' was a thing…maybe just at the start of the panic.

"Hey Charlie, you want some bread?"
"Naw, thanks brother. I'm off the stuff."
"The stuff…bread? Really?"
"No, not bread in particular. Just gluten."
"Oh. Uh. Okay man. So, no bread?"
"No way…you shouldn't have any either…Gluten is so bad for you. I mean, just look at the name. It's like Glue for your system, but 10 times as bad. Its in the name. Break it down," Charlie states, looking at me like I'm INSANE.

This was his actual rationale for consuming or not consuming things. This is the logic you're up against. People genuinely believe this stuff. I had many more awkward conversations with this guy about how honestly he believed that because "gluten" could be (sort of?) broken down into the words GLU(E) and TEN, that it was actually glue for the human body, but like 10 times worse than regular Elmer's glue for your body. I tried really, really hard to explain to him that words don't actually work that way, to no avail. For all I know to this day, he thinks Cantaloupes come from tin cans fertilized by antelopes or something.

Anyways. All the more fucking awesome free bread for me.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [40 favorites]


Order up a non-fat grande and you’ll get served 50 grams of sugar. Is it a pick-me-up from the caffeine, or all that toxic sugar?

Um, BOTH, as god intended? Sugar + caffeine IS MAGIC.
posted by kate blank at 11:13 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


furnace.heart, that's just what I would expect from someone who could literally turn to ash the side of an island protected from wind. The fact that his name is pronounced CHAR LEE is no coincidence. No coincidence at all.
posted by grouse at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

My rule? Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.


When I was in third grade, and this is no joke I was a weeeee bit bookwormy and super-duper curious, plus had a Russian penpal and an Egyptian penpal I could pronounce Я говорю по русский, أنا أتكلم العربية , j'aime mon chat and a whole lot of stuff in Spanish.

If you guys want you can use me as your archetypal third grader and eat pretty much anything you want.
posted by fraula at 11:23 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hari has brushed off such questions about her motivations and scientific proficiency....

As a side note, when I encounter "[Subject] has brushed off such questions..." I find myself wondering why the reporter didn't pursue the matter. I realize there's the specious notion of two sides to every story, but shouldn't "Not easily brushed off" be part of every reporter's resume?
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


Because I should be studying biochemistry instead of reading this thread, and I was curious, I looked into the difference between glucose and fructose metabolism.

In sum: Excess glucose is stored as glycogen to be released for energy later, in between meals, while excess fructose is converted into fat, overwhelming the liver’s fat dispensing capabilities, resulting in fat accumulation within the liver. A fatty liver from dietary causes can lead to cirrhosis just like it can in alcoholism. High fructose diet = fatty liver = bad.

Some more of the nitty-gritty: Glucose metabolism, our main source of energy, is HIGHLY regulated. This regulation allows the liver to store glucose as glycogen when it senses a high energy state (say you just ate a meal). However, fructose cannot be stored as glycogen. Fructose enters glycolysis (the metabolic pathway of glucose/fructose breakdown) AFTER the regulatory step so even though we are in a high energy state and down want to break it down, it occurs anyway and ends up as pyruvate. Since we don’t need this energy now, pyruvate DOES NOT progress to the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation (aka aerobic respiration, generation of ATP). Instead, those molecules go on to be stored as fat. However, this is too much fat, the liver can’t keep up with the export of fat and ends up storing some. This is similar to what happens with ethanol metabolism (high energy state, energy diverted into making fat).

Hope that makes sense.
Sources: My tenuous understating of biochemical pathways and this page.
posted by bobobox at 11:41 AM on April 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


furnace.heart, Charlie was on to something, but he broke 'gluten' down incorrectly. It's actually
'glute' 'en', which refers to the small dash ('-') that appears on your buttocks when you eat bread. It's hard to find, but it's there. You just need a hand-held mirror and patience.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

Finally I can stop eating argula with a clear conscience.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


[A few comments deleted; let's skip the discursion into the semantics of "babe."]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:45 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


shouldn't "Not easily brushed off" be part of every reporter's resume?

These days reporters supposedly need "access," which doesn't go to the overly persistent. The national media carries people brushing off questions all the time, with the so-called reporters often shrugging and "leaving it there."

Of course, the flip side to this phenomenon is the perennial story hook about how "questions remain," no matter how well established the facts may be.
posted by Gelatin at 11:49 AM on April 7, 2015


And if you do a "cleanse" for sugars you're wasting your time; their most salient property is how quickly your body polishes them off completely.

Especially if the "cleanse" you take is itself full of sugar, as is the Suja product she recommends.
posted by Anne Neville at 11:51 AM on April 7, 2015


Oh, interesting: Hari's "toxic sugar" links to "It's the Sugar, Folks" by Mark Bittman, in which both the usually sensible Bittman and an apparently sane endocrinologist assert that "sugar is toxic" in the literal sense, and suggest that the FDA define a safe maximum dosage for it. I think you guys are right and I was wrong — she may well have meant it literally.

"Sugar is toxic" is Robert Lustig's meme, and regardless of whether he's right about how bad it is or whether you think it's a sensational usage he's more credible than the Food Babe. I think this is kind of a half-informed takedown myself. An appeal to LD-50? Come on.

But when people like Hari refer to "toxins" they are generally speaking within the pseudoscientific "cleanse yourself of [cumulative] toxins" paradigm, which is an even sillier perspective than an appeal to LD-50. And Lustig's ire is largely targeted at fructose, the consumption of which - in its "natural" form - Hari appears to endorse. So, I mean, half-informed is better than anti-informed.
posted by atoxyl at 11:51 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Explain things. Explain why fructose is actually worse than sucrose.

Here's why fructose is different than glucose (both of which, of course, are present in sucrose): instead of being metabolized all over the place in your body as glucose is, fructose is metabolized almost exclusively in the liver, and is used to replenish glycogen and synthesize triglycerides. (About half of it is converted to glucose, about a quarter of it is converted to lactate, and the rest goes to glycogen and triglycerides.) It doesn't affect insulin production as directly, either. It's also absorbed through the intestines by a different process (or maybe similar process which is regulated differently, the science is not definitive) than glucose is.

Of course, that on its own doesn't make it worse. For most people, it's not worse at all. For people with livers that are jacked up in particular ways, though, or for people who lack the enzymes necessary for fructolysis, or for people whose intestines don't do a good job of absorbing fructose? It's definitely worse. However, for those people, it's worse regardless of its source; apples are as bad for you as high fructose corn syrup, if not worse. You can eat a mountain of Sweet Tarts or a gallon of Karo, but pears or cherries or raw honey or organic agave will be very much not good. Anyone who is shrieking about the dangers of fructose and simultaneously pushing fruit juice cleanses is, as someone said above, not even wrong.
posted by KathrynT at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


So, is fruit salad dangerous or not? Cause I eat a lot of fruit without (apparently) converting it to fat, as I'm morbidly skinny. Do you just need to spread out fruit consumption over time and avoid big bursts? or, KathrynT, am I understanding you to say that absent certain inabilities to process fruit, it's fine?

Thx for doing the research, all.
posted by msalt at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2015


Fructose malabsorption is one of the things that makes fructose--all forms--bad for some people. Some fruit salads will be fine, others will cause your bowels to do nasty things.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:33 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Listening to photogenic celebrity ignorance should have some kind of catchy name like the stdunning-kruger effect.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:37 PM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


apples are as bad for you as high fructose corn syrup, if not worse

I don't think that's quite the case. Apples are fairly high in fiber and there's some evidence that fiber slows fructose absorption. Apple juice would be bad, because you get all the fructose and none of the fiber.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:38 PM on April 7, 2015


Here's an example of the scientific misunderstanding that we're all fighting against.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c6HsiixFS8
I see no way of combating that type of ignorance/silliness other than forcing people to repeat middle school.
posted by Zangal at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2015


CheeseDigestsAll, I believe KathrynT is saying that apples are as bad or worse than HFCS for people with fructose malabsorption, not for the general population.
posted by pie ninja at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't find it now but I have a quote somewhere from some diet person saying that, for the calories vs nutrients, Apples are almost benefit neutral for what you get out of them.

Which is great for me, I hate apples.
posted by Cosine at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2015


Well, if some diet person said it somewhere, it has to be true!

(I like apples.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:55 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I googled 'Food Babe' just now, the google sidebar showed me a list of figures that are commonly googled by other people googling Food Babe. Fourth on that list was Alex Jones.

Coincidence? Or something more sinister...?
posted by still bill at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]




ArbitraryAndCapricious: "(I like apples.)"

Whether you like them was never in question. The question was how?

How do you like them?
posted by RobotHero at 1:12 PM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify for myself on one point: I misspoke saying fructose cannot be stored as glycogen - it is rather that in that metabolic state it bypasses regulation and is converted to fat.

I kind of like the parallels of fructose with alcohol. Alcohol CAN be toxic and it can kill you if you drink excessively on a chronic basis but you can certainly have some every day and live a long healthy life. A perfect "dose makes the poison" example. And some people choose to eschew alcohol altogether - but you totally don't have to. And yet people will moralize...
posted by bobobox at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you really want to spend hours in a metal tube full of inadequately dephlogistonated air?

Aiee! Get me a priestly Lavoisier stat!
posted by rdone at 1:30 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]




Well, if some diet person said it somewhere, it has to be true!

No no no, it doesn't have to be true at all, it just has to fit my current beliefs! ;)

(I like cooked apples, just raw they taste like rubber)
posted by Cosine at 1:56 PM on April 7, 2015


Hari's rule? "If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."

My rule? Don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.


My parents could not fully enjoy the ritual of the Ortolan unless I was standing in the corner on my Pronunciation Dias, intoning the word 'orrrrrtolannnnnn' repeatedly.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


I don't think that's quite the case. Apples are fairly high in fiber and there's some evidence that fiber slows fructose absorption. Apple juice would be bad, because you get all the fructose and none of the fiber.

Well, for people with fructose malabsorption, they aren't going to absorb the fructose period. And for people with hereditary fructose intolerance, any dietary fructose at all really is incredibly dangerous. For most people, though, it's probably fine, like I said.
posted by KathrynT at 2:34 PM on April 7, 2015


So, is fruit salad dangerous or not? Cause I eat a lot of fruit without (apparently) converting it to fat, as I'm morbidly skinny. Do you just need to spread out fruit consumption over time and avoid big bursts? or, KathrynT, am I understanding you to say that absent certain inabilities to process fruit, it's fine?

If you don't have fructose malabsorption disorder, hereditary fructose intolerance, a cirrhotic or otherwise jacked-up liver*, or diabetes, then I can't see why it would be a problem. I'm not a doctor or scientist; 100% of my knowledge on this subject came after my own child was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption.

*this is the subject of some debate. Since fructose is processed in the liver, say some people, if your liver is not up to snuff, your ability to process fructose may be compromised, and putting a heavy load on it is probably a bad idea. To my knowledge, the evidence in favor of this hypothesis is pretty weak but worth considering.
posted by KathrynT at 2:39 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


FWIW, just after we boarded a South African Airways flight from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg in August 2013, the flight attendants walked up and down the aisles... spraying pesticide. The plane was still on the ground. So, it does happen, but obviously that doesn't really make the case for Food Babe...
posted by tss at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2015


You know who she reminds me of? Requireshate.

Like a much more cheery, publicly presentable version. Right down to the ripping on other women of color, and using the "you're just a sexist/racist!" as a club thing.

There's a special level of fuck you for minorities who use their status as a weapon in "progressive" spaces, and take advantage of white guilt bullshit/"progressive stack" type thought to turn people against each other.

Seriously, shit pisses me off so much.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy hell. This has got to be satire. Please tell me it's satire.

I was homeschooled growing up, and involved in homeschool groups, art collectives, etc. People like this who believe and preach this stuff are a dime a dozen. The difference is that their exposure used to be limited to semi-niche books you could buy at the organic grocery store or that people would talk about at reiki meetings or whatever. Books the Pranic healing master would hawk at the end of his meeting when he came in from out of town.

I have no doubt she really believes this stuff, and is just enjoying the attention and reveling in it like a pig in shit.

The only new thing here is getting national attention, and going on dr. oz and stuff. And the 1-2 punch of you-cant-criticize-me-i'm-a-minority and "ohh look she's from an enlightened healthy culture where people meditate and stuff!" which is like crack to gralona hippies, who have moved on from obsession with native americans to mostly being obsessed with near eastern culture in a gross fetishistic way they try and sweep under the rug when it starts to tarnish their lefty credentials.

She is to the modern prius driving antivaxer what animal collective was to hipsters in the mid 2000s. Even with this criticism, she's still probably going to make millions of dollars.
posted by emptythought at 3:48 PM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Coincidence? Or something more sinister...?

Not a coincidence at all. These are all conspiracy theorists in bed with one another. I'm not going to link it, but InfoWars has a store full of dietary supplements and believes that the government is poisoning food to dumb down the public (see also, chemtrails, vaccines and fluoride)
posted by Sophie1 at 4:00 PM on April 7, 2015


The pessimist in me thinks that the human race is too dumb to live. The optimist part marvels at the fact that we lasted this long.
posted by nubs at 4:05 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


FWIW, just after we boarded a South African Airways flight from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg in August 2013, the flight attendants walked up and down the aisles... spraying pesticide. The plane was still on the ground. So, it does happen, but obviously that doesn't really make the case for Food Babe...

Yeah, they do that in Australia, too, at least on international flights. Pretty sure it's pyrethrin (read: chrysanthemum extract), but I may be wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:19 PM on April 7, 2015


As far as I know, there's no "It's bad for you" Avenger
posted by Sphinx at 6:46 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The entire point of that was to emphasize the idea that simply stating that something is a chemical and that it occurs in something that is not food does not mean it is suddenly poison when it is in food.


Except in this case, the additive is ADZ, which there is some question about. It isn't allowed in flour in the EU and plenty of other places because there may be some small long term risk from one of the compounds produced when it is heated (i.e. when bread is baked). Maybe the risk is small, but in this case, the other side of the equation is that ADZ just lets you make bad bread slightly faster, so the reward isn't much either (some would say it is actually a negative as it encourages production of less healthy bread).

So really, it kind of looks like neither side here is completely fact based.

There are definitely real long-term risks, both direct and higher order, from some of the additives used in food production, not to mention the pesticides used. We also have very significant health risks due to obesity and I don't think we have a clear picture of how that ties in with what we eat.

It scares me how a certain community of people take their frustration at people like this blogger and use it as a bludgeon against anyone who is worried about their food. It seems that people really enjoy looking down on others who they consider less intelligent than themselves - and aren't really worried about careful consideration of risks and real facts when they do so.

It's a cruddy situation. I just hope we don't turn this topic info yet another series of people yelling at each other. There are real problems to be solved in this realm!
posted by ssg at 10:21 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


You bastards, pecking away at my dietary immortality with your "facts".
posted by benzenedream at 12:13 AM on April 8, 2015


Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
posted by mikelieman at 1:54 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


ssg: No one is denying that there are valid concerns about food and health and the food industry. But Food Babe is doing it exactly wrong.

Fortunately, you have Michael Pollan as a fine counter-example. His pitchy slogans actually work and make sense, representing hard work as a writer finding the key nub of information.

Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry,"
posted by msalt at 6:28 AM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


That seems at best a few steps above Food Babe but still kind of bad. My great grandmother wouldn't recognize bugs as food, but many of them are very nutritionally sound. I can't pronounce a lot of foreign dishes, so I guess they are out. I get plain frozen broccoli and canned spinach from the center of the store, is it bad for me? I can't eat pickles? They seem to last forever.

The, "if you can't pronounce it" is especially food babe style fear of chemicals.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:35 AM on April 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


ssg: "Except in this case, the additive is ADZ, which there is some question about. It isn't allowed in flour in the EU and plenty of other places because there may be some small long term risk from one of the compounds produced when it is heated (i.e. when bread is baked)."

So you're giving me a fairly reasonable explanation, but the frustrating thing is it's much harder to get on Time's 30 most influential bloggers and create Starbucks boycotts over caramel colouring by saying reasonable things. Even if you come to the same conclusion, it doesn't have the rhetorical flourish of saying they use this in anti-freeze.


msalt: "Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients,"

That seems low. I just checked my bread recipe, and that has seven ingredients. I can make a pie crust in five, (flour, salt, sugar, butter, water) but then I don't have anything left for the filling.
posted by RobotHero at 8:14 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to switch to eating food without any DNA in it.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:22 AM on April 8, 2015


Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Surely that's don't *buy* anything with more than five ingredients. Anyone who thinks you shouldn't eat anything with more than five ingredients has probably never cooked.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:23 AM on April 8, 2015 [8 favorites]




"Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients,"

Not eating jambalaya would make me sad.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:48 AM on April 8, 2015


Oh man, Cosine, a friend of mine, a chain-smoker, looked down on me for using aspartame. "Puts holes in your brain," he'd insist as he exhaled a long stream of actual, proven carcinogens.

I told him where to step off, and he stopped, but I just couldn't believe we were having that conversation.
posted by emjaybee at 8:55 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?

Capitalists hydrate like this; Communists hydrate like this, amirite?
 
posted by Herodios at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the last thing I cooked was the turkey and zucchini burgers with sumac sauce from the Jerusalem cookbook, and they have 12 ingredients for the burgers and nine for the sauce. I am not sure that my great-grandmother would have recognized sumac as food. I am not sure that I can pronounce all the cultures in the yogurt, and sour cream has more than five ingredients. Michael Pollan probably thinks I'm the devil, but boy are the turkey burgers yummy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:23 AM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure that's a Dr. Strangelove quote, referencing specifically pure grain alcohol and water fluoridation.
posted by Carillon at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2015


Exceptions or no, don't call me 'honey'.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2015


"Always leave the table a little hungry,"

What? I have literally never left a table hungry (ok, at least since I stopped being poor), and I most assuredly am not overweight. How is this a good thing?

If you've eaten a full meal and you're still hungry, you're eating the wrong things.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients,

That's asinine. The number of ingredients in a dish has zero bearing on its nutritional properties. I can eat a salad containing two dozen different vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts, or I can eat a block of lard containing a single ingredient. Which is healthier?

or ingredients you can't pronounce.

Equally asinine. First of all, I can pronounce most of the words on most food labels, because I'm halfway literate and have a high-school-level chemistry education. Does it follow that it's okay for me to eat anything? (Hopefully the other reasons that this principle is asinine are obvious.)

Nutrition science is very complicated, and I understand the need to simplify it into heuristics that can be easily remembered and applied in real life. But most of the heuristics I hear proposed are so oversimplified that they've become incoherent. Slogans can only dumb things down so much before they simply start misrepresenting the facts.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I suppose it could apply to some kind of range of internal states, but "always leave the table a little hungry" seems, on nearly any reasonable interpretation, to be a recipe for extreme malnutrition?
posted by ominous_paws at 12:11 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]




Always leave the table a little hungry

That's really the only sensible advice apple of the bunch, there. It just means don't eat until satiation because that's really unhealthy to do every day like people like to do.
posted by Abon Sapi at 12:17 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Don’t eat anything with...ingredients you can't pronounce.

But what if you say to-MAY-to and I say to-MAH-to?
posted by yoink at 12:20 PM on April 8, 2015


Always leave the table a little hungry

That's really the only sensible advice apple of the bunch, there. It just means don't eat until satiation because that's really unhealthy to do every day like people like to do.


Huh? That is surely only true if your sense of satiation has been screwed up in some way. I eat until I feel full at every meal, and I eat what by any scientifically endorsed standard is a very healthy diet.

There have been a lot of studies showing that various kinds of psychological and other factors are involved in making the average Westerner not feel satiated until s/he has eaten more than is desirable. But if you take those factors away (super calorie-dense meals, very large servings etc.) and eat a healthy high-on-the-veggies-and-fruit diet, you will feel "full" without overeating.
posted by yoink at 12:25 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suppose it could apply to some kind of range of internal states, but "always leave the table a little hungry" seems, on nearly any reasonable interpretation, to be a recipe for extreme malnutrition?

Not really, no. The stomach takes a while to signal satiation to the brain. If you're the sort of person who sits, eats, gets up, then leaving the table before you feel full helps you stick to what you actually need. At more social times when it's slower eating and lingering at the table, this isn't as important.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:29 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Huh? That is surely only true if your sense of satiation has been screwed up in some way. I eat until I feel full at every meal, and I eat what by any scientifically endorsed standard is a very healthy diet.

Your great habits aside, I know a ton of people who should stop eating well before their piled-high plate or restaurant entree has been polished off.
posted by Abon Sapi at 12:44 PM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, they do that in Australia, too, at least on international flights. Pretty sure it's pyrethrin (read: chrysanthemum extract), but I may be wrong.

Pyrethroids are usually more biodegradable and less toxic to humans compared to older insecticides but some of them are still fairly nasty - and very toxic to fish, incidentally. You might take this as an example of "natural" not meaning safe, though the most potent are definitely synthetic.
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 PM on April 8, 2015


There's a difference between tips or guidelines and rules. Some of Pollans slogans are reasonable as guidelines; they're mostly fine when considered critically rather than robotically. And when keeping in mind that they're erring on the side of caution, and probably assuming everyone is going to make exceptions.

I used to shop at a market where the freezers were on the outside; that doesn't mean Hot Pockets and ice cream sandwiches are ideal foods. It also doesn't mean that frozen foods are necessarily bad; even if your guideline says fresh peas are better sometimes it makes sense to buy frozen anyway.

And if you're a chemist the bit about ingredients you can't pronounce isn't for you either. The idea isn't that every difficult-to-pronounce ingredient is dangerous, but that most people aren't going to be able to make good decisions for themselves based on a list of unfamiliar chemicals. Easy-to-pronounce ingredients are going to be easier to remember; you don't need a blanket rule to cover known troublesome ingredients.
posted by mountmccabe at 12:49 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your great habits aside, I know a ton of people who should stop eating well before their piled-high plate or restaurant entree has been polished off.

Had you bothered to read the rest of my comment, you'd have seen that I recognize that this phenomenon is real. My point was, however, that if those people do in fact, start eating more healthily (which includes things like not piling their plate high--one of the specific factors I cited as screwing with people's sense of satiety) then the advice to "leave the table feeling hungry" will cease to become good advice.

In other words, it might be good advice to offer to someone as they transition from eating unhealthily to eating healthily, it is not, so far as I can see, a good "rule of thumb" to live by for the rest of your life.
posted by yoink at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read this article yesterday, and while I dislike the Food Babe and her ilk, I disagree that there isn't sexism in the criticism of her. I had to leave at least one anti-Food Babe group because half the comments were super-sexist.

That said I looked at list of top Australian food bloggers yesterday and half of them were ranting about 'toxins' and other junk. It's pretty harmful, since it takes eating, which should be joyful and fun, and turns it into another fountain of woo and anxiety.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:24 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Getting all worked up about food is like so last century. Today's hip fear monger is all about chemtrails in the cloud.
posted by another fountain of woo and anxiety at 8:29 PM on April 8, 2015


Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.

Having worked in a supermarket produce department, I can assure you this is not at all how it works, or sound advice.
posted by Dysk at 1:10 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The perimeter of my store is beer and cheese...so maybe this is actually good advice after all. I want to believe.

(Yes, in PA, we have beer in the grocery store now! And the world has not ended!)
posted by Drinky Die at 1:16 AM on April 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, The Food Idiot has weighed in on flu shots, including a tweet (which I can't find bc lazy) saying that they've been used for genocide.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:33 AM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


At what point does someone like TFI become such a threat to public safety that it is acceptable to shut them down? Working toward the elimination of herd immunity to childhood diseases is akin to slow terrorism. For the safety of all, it can not be allowed.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:59 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]




used for genocide

Won't someone think of the viruses???
posted by Sys Rq at 8:06 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


That Mac & Cheese article is kind of frustrating because it quotes her saying the removed ingredients
“are man-made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum (a crude oil product, which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar).”

“Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 can be contaminated with known carcinogens,” she also says. They “cause an increase in hyperactivity in children, have a negative impact on children’s ability to learn, [and] have been linked to long-term health problems such as asthma, skin rashes, and migraines.”
but then only quotes scientists talking about her, rather than directly addressing the quoted claims.
posted by RobotHero at 8:47 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Which is why stupid crap like this gets traction: friggin mainstream journalists don't know how to write about science. Ծ_Ծ
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The inclusion of yellow dyes in cheese-flavoured powder is hardly the hill I want to die on. But it is kind of annoying to see this rhetoric be successful even if it's to inconsequential ends in this particular case.

Of course, cheese isn't naturally orange either. So this got me curious: the most common colouring for cheese is apparently annatto. It's plant-derived and has been used for centuries, so TFB would probably approve.
posted by RobotHero at 11:08 AM on April 21, 2015


dear food babe, cyanides are also plant-derived and have been used for centuries.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:34 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


OMG her article about the flu shot that the eponysterical feckless fecal fear mongering mentions is just nonsense piled up on top of nonsense. I never read so many ridiculously wrong things said in one place.

Her final advice? To catch the flu!

You’ll have these new antibodies for life that will ultimately protect you from similar strains of the virus better than any yearly shot could ever provide.

Maybe she doesn't realize that there are up to 200,000 flu deaths a year. I'd be curious to hear what she has to say about the flu a few days after she encounters a particularly bad strain of the flu.

(Not that I'm wishing this on her).
posted by eye of newt at 7:58 PM on April 21, 2015


I got a flu shot this year, like every year. Apparently a flu strain going around now was not in the vaccine. I caught it. On Day 2 my fever spiked around 104F, I thought I was going to die. Now I'm at Day 5 and I just can't shake a low grade fever and all the respiratory problems.

I remember recently whining here on MeFi that having a flu shot gave me a reaction, sort of a "mini-flu." I guess I forgot how bad a bout of real severe flu was. I'l recategorize that as a micro-flu or smaller. This is the first time the flu vaccine didn't work for me, but it seems pretty clear that I have been getting good protection (mostly). Get your flu shots.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:42 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jebus, even the Kraft Dinner isn't safe? Look, organic/natural dumbasses, some things are sacred. You aren't eating this product anyway! Why do you have to change it?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:50 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


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