Beaver Butts? 'Food Babe' Is Playing You

Vani Hari is a business, and not one based in science
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 19, 2015 1:44 PM CST
Beaver Butts? 'Food Babe' Is Playing You
Vani Hari, aka "Food Babe"   (Rebekah Borucki)

Vani Hari, aka the "Food Babe," writes a lot of stomach-churning posts like "Do You Eat Beaver Butt?", promises in the title of her new book to make you Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days!, says her blog has "change(d) the world," and has gotten Subway to yank a chemical from its bread, Kraft to pull dyes from its mac and cheese, and Budweiser to disclose its predictable beer ingredients. The only slight problem here, writes chemistry prof Michelle M. Francl in Slate, is that "none of it is true." Yes, castoreum is from sacs on a beaver's butt and deemed "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA, but less than 500lbs of it is harvested annually, so while it might be in your pricey perfume, "there is no chance that the pint of ice cream you picked up at the store contains it." And Kraft's "coal tar dyes" are indeed called that, because of a century-old throwback, but, writes Francl, they're now "made from sustainable plant sources."

For comparison, Francl offers this: "Did you know that oxidane, a major component of human urine, is added to coffee beans to enhance the aroma? Disgusting!" Only "oxidane" is commonly known as "water," which most people are OK with. Make no mistake, "Food Babe is a business, just like Kraft, and one that is far less grounded in science," continues Francl. Over at Jezebel, CA Pinkham jumps in, writing that "her idiotic arguments" mean "the only difference between what Vani Hari is doing and what the anti-vax movement is doing is that the body count for the former is potentially much lower." Hari's "game," writes Francl, is to use "common motifs of disgust, such as excrement and body parts, all the while deliberately confusing the source and uses of material with the molecules themselves." The tragedy? Hari is absolutely right that our food is overprocessed and full of ick. But for Francl, "I prefer to focus on the real chemistry behind it all, not the beaver butts the Food Babe is waving in my face." Click for Francl's full column, or Pinkham's. (The Atlantic has a profile of Hari here.)

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