Looking for some inspiration to kickstart a healthier year, I picked up Vani Hari’s recently released book, “The Food Babe Way: Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food And Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days!” With such a mouthful of a title, I was hopeful to find something – even if just a nugget – that would be useful and transformative health-wise. Not having any previous knowledge of who Vani Hari was, I quickly realized after reading the first few pages that I had stumbled onto a shining example of how social media is facilitating activism.
The book was engaging enough with some familiar advice such as incorporating a morning lemon water ritual, enjoying a green drink, or stop drinking soda. I thought that her Food Habits for Food Babes checklist was simple and actionable. But at the heart of the book is the message that the food we eat are typically polluted with harmful chemicals.
Did you know that your fast-food french fries contain a chemical also used in silly putty? Or that a juicy peach sprayed heavily with pesticides could be triggering your body to store fat? Does wood pulp, a common ingredient in some packaged cheese, sound appetizing to you?
Vani has taken on big food corporations such as Kraft, Subway, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, and Starbucks with utter fearlessness. This former management consultant turned “accidental” food activist has been sharing her message and mobilizing a “Food Babe Army” against food additives, GMOs, and everything that is not natural on the blogosphere of 3 million unique readers and 933,883 Facebook followers across the world. She has put the heat on food industry giants to get them to disclose the ingredients in their foods and to remove those which are toxic. So it is not surprising that Time Magazine would name her as one of “The 30 Most Influential People on the Internet.” Vani is proof that “anyone with a web connection can start a global conversation.”
But there is something dark brewing underneath the glitter of Vani’s food activist stardom, the best-selling book, or the Times Magazine accolade. Alongside her Food Babe Army is an opposing army that has also been forming online.
An NPR article entitled Is The Food Babe A Fearmonger? Scientists Are Speaking Out has given voice to critics who say that Vani’s scientific arguments are faulty on everything from GMOs to alkalinity. Her detractors claim that she misleads and scares consumers and use bad science to pressure companies to drop ingredients that may not be harmful in the first place. To some still, she is a misinformed opportunist – a capitalist – seeking publicity at every turn while promoting causes like GMO labeling and then making a profit from sales of organic and natural products sold on her website.
The most worrisome “is a hateful contingent of detractors who are waging a full-out war against Hari using gross, scary comments and threats, calling her horrible names and going so far as to threaten her life.”
It is one thing to disagree with her views or her claims. It is another thing to launch vile and cruel personal attacks against her, all behind a veil of anonymity.
Regardless of where one falls in the spectrum – admirer or detractor – Vani has effectively used social media to promote her activism and advocacy.