You probably saw the headlines. Mark Zuckerberg gets his baby vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers go nuts. “Nuts” meaning the usual accusation featuring some combination of poison, Autism and Big Pharma. Some called the picture a fake. Others argued that the billionaire was probably paid off. It was typical antivaxxer behavior, and the internet reacted with appropriate horror and condemnation.
You probably reject anti-vaxxers and their anti-science lunacy — most people do — but you might not realize there’s another band of science deniers that’s just as delusional and vicious. Over the past several years, the “Food Babe Army” has harassed businesses as well as the people who dare to disagree with their fearless leader, the Food Babe.
The Food Babe (real name: Vani Hari) makes her living by frightening consumers with false claims about chemicals, GMOs and corporate transparency. She accused Subway of making bread with yoga mats when the actual ingredient is (yes) a chemical used in small amounts and “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. She criticized Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte for containing carcinogenic additives, “Monsanto milk” and absolutely no real pumpkin, even though the additives used were in tiny amounts not associated with any increased health risk, Monsanto doesn’t make milk and no one wants pumpkin puree in their coffee.
Hari also insists that GMOs are dangerous, even though scientists agree GMOs are no riskier than conventional foods, and falsely calls almost any food that isn’t organic a “GMO.” She’s wrong about the toxicity of sugar. She constantly beats the transparency drum, even when companies make their ingredient lists public. Because what “transparency” really means is give me something I can use against you.
The Food Babe Army — Hari’s most devoted followers — follows Hari’s every directive in the name of food activism. A typical Food Babe campaign goes something like this — Hari picks a product to “investigate,” demands an ingredient list from the company, claims these ingredients are dangerous by misrepresenting chemicals, processed food (“dead food” anyone?), GMOs and toxicity, and then directs the Food Babe Army to harangue the company on social media.
Food Babe Army members go after anyone who disagrees with Hari, often quite viciously:
Consumers have a right to voice their opinions, of course, even when those opinions are based on pseudoscience, but it’s disturbing when meaningful debate is replaced by personal attacks. Anyone who disputes Hari’s claims is called a shill for biotech or Big Food and is usually swiftly banned or blocked from interacting with Hari on social media. Many science advocates who’ve found themselves blocked have joined the Facebook group Banned By the Food Babe, which is where I learned about some of the Food Babe Army’s more egregious behavior, like this private message received by Nandu Nandini:
One member of the Food Babe Army threatened to contact Ty’s* employer. Another told Cydney B. she was poisoning her family (a familiar accusation). One woman, upon discovering the profile picture of a science advocate with his boyfriend, messaged to call him disgusting. And others had no trouble with the comment that Vance Crowe, Monsanto’s director of millennial engagement, should be shot.
Recently, Hari unleashed her followers on the deli meat company Boar’s Head, so the Food Babe Army showed up to leave their complaints:
Science advocates posted to Boar’s Head’s Facebook page too, arguing that Hari’s complaints were unfounded. In response, Hari made a video encouraging the Food Babe Army to “combat trolls.” Dr. Alison Bernstein, the scientist who runs the Facebook page Mommy PhD and was dubbed Hari’s #1 Troll in the video, says the comments to her page have become nastier. “Since Vani’s video, I have had more snarky nonsense, name-calling, lack of respect and people unwilling to engage in honest conversation.”
Hari and her followers seem incapable of examining their beliefs or their actions, even when those actions include blatant harassment. Sadly, the Food Babe Army probably believes this kind of abuse is an acceptable tactic in the name of food activism, but Hari’s investigations haven’t made food any safer (much less tastier).
The Food Babe Army is as unscientific as anti-vaxxers and their tactics are just as unsavory. Keep that in mind the next time your Facebook friend shares a post from the Food Babe. The “Food Babe way” isn’t just pseudoscientific, it’s also vicious harassment.
*Some last names have been withheld.