FBhari

It’s been a while since I’ve taken notice of Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, the misguided “food safety” activist who sees chemicals, chemicals, chemicals everywhere and raises fears about them all, especially the ones that she can’t pronounce. The first time I took any significant notice of her was about a year ago, when she was making news for lobbying Subway to remove the “yoga mat chemical” azodicarbonamide from its bread. Of course, as I explained, azodicarbonamide is a safe chemical that disappears during the baking. It’s a maturing agent that makes bread dough rise better and improves the handling properties of doughs, yielding drier, more cohesive doughs that are more pliable, hold together better during kneading, and machine better. Then, she made some astonishing ignorant statements about beer, where she pulled the same routine, to the point where I said labeled her tactics as the “appeal to yuckiness.” Basically, if something sounds yucky to her (such as isinglass, which is derived from the swim bladders of fish and is used in some beers to remove haziness and yeast byproducts), then it must be bad, either for you or just bad because it’s gross. It also turns out that The Food Babe makes quite a pretty penny spreading her ignorance and has become sought after to feature in various media appearances, such as magazine covers.

Oh, and she believes in Masaro Emoto’s water woo (in the context of claiming that microwaving is bad for food) and has shown some antivaccine stylings.

For the last few months I’ve been somewhat dreading February, because I knew Hari was poised to release her first book. As I described before, she has more than a fair amount of social media savvy and business acumen, which have allowed her to build the Food Babe brand rapidly and explains (to me at least) why she seemed to come out of nowhere to be on a trajectory to become as influential as Dr. Mehmet Oz. Her book, released this week, is called 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! (Talk about ridiculously long subtitles.) You see, I knew that when it came time for Hari’s book to come out we’d be seeing a lot more of her, and unfortunately that’s what happened. As part of that publicity, Hari was featured in a fairly long feature article in The Atlantic by James Hamblin, The Food Babe: Enemy of Chemicals. It’s a relatively amusing title, to be sure, and there’s a lot that’s good about the article. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that’s downright infuriating as well, the more so given that Hamblin is a physician and really should know better. To some extent, he does, but unfortunately in this piece he shows himself far more respectful of pseudoscience of the sort promoted by The Food Babe than a physician should be.

What’s infuriating is that this article is one of the most egregious examples I’ve seen in a long time of “false balance.” In this case, the false balance comes in the form of a “point-counterpoint” style of telling the Food Babe’s story, whereby she makes a claim, which is then refuted or contested by a scientist. You might think: Great! The article is debunking Hari’s nonsense, and, to a reasonable extent it does, but it does so in such a way as to give the illusion that there is actually a scientific controversy about the topics Hari gloms onto. With few exceptions, there isn’t, and for the exceptions she inevitably takes the most fear mongering approach. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. Hamblin has revealed himself to be insufficiently skeptical about dubious medical claims before, specifically about chelation therapy.

On the other hand, I will give Hamblin credit for quoting part of Hari’s book that perfectly encompasses her complete ignorance of chemistry, physiology, and pharmacology:

Her stance on food additives is an absolute one: “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.”

So may I assume that Hari doesn’t ingest water? That’s a chemical. What about salt or sugar? Those are chemicals too. What about food? Our food, even part of a perfect raw vegan diet, is chock full of chemicals because organisms, be they plants or animals, are made up of chemicals with structures ranging from very simple to highly complex, such as proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and many others.

Yes, I know that when someone like Hari says “chemical,” she isn’t using the scientific definition of the word, which basically describes all matter cooler than plasma. After all, pretty much everything is made up of chemicals. Rather, when someone like Hari says “chemicals,” she means synthetic, man made chemicals. Of course, that’s—if you’ll excuse the term—an artificial distinction. What’s “natural” and what’s not? Is it “unnatural” to modify a natural product and use it? What about mixtures? Yes, Hari’s fear of chemicals is completely over-the-top, and Hamblin notes the criticism that she has received:

Most of the scientists who have spoken on Hari’s work, though, are less than supportive of that sweeping message. Rather, her work has drawn ardent criticism, primarily from a vocal contingent of academic researchers and doctors, who accuse her, in no uncertain terms, of fear-mongering and profiteering. They say that she invokes science when it is convenient, as in the passage above, but demonizes it when it is not—as in her blanket case against any and all genetically modified food. Last month, NPR ran a critique of Hari’s work, quoting several of her outspoken detractors. Science writer Kavin Senapathy, for one, captured the concerns of many in saying that Hari “exploits the scientific ignorance of her followers.” Others, including neurologist Steven Novella, have said that she is to food what Jenny McCarthy is to vaccines.

Yep. The Food Babe is, as I’ve put it, the Jenny McCarthy of food.

Of interest to me, at least, was the part of the profile where Hamblin goes into a bit more detail than I had known before about the Food Babe’s origins:

One cold winter night, when she was in her early 20s, Vani Hari developed some pain in her lower abdomen. She went to a nearby hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was born and had returned to live after college. In the emergency department, she remembers being told to relax, that her ovaries were “moving,” and she’d be fine. The next morning she went in for a second opinion, and she was diagnosed with appendicitis. Within an hour she was having her appendix laparoscopically excised. Recovering in the hospital that night, she remembers someone took a picture of her, and she ripped it up thinking she looked “so, so bad.” And she definitely felt horrible.

Since graduating from college, Hari had been working as a consultant at Accenture. She kept long, exhausting hours. She recalls being afraid to leave to use the bathroom during meetings because the environment was so intense. She ate decadent catered meals from exorbitant expense accounts. “A bunch of stuff that really doesn’t serve the body,” she recalls. “But I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be a partner. I was ambitious.” But the health issues she’d had as a child—allergies, eczema, asthma—flared up. Over the first year of the job, she gained between 30 and 40 pounds. She felt bad and “didn’t look that great.”

When the appendicitis hit, that was a breaking point. Lying in her hospital bed, Hari said, “I just had this light bulb awakening moment, you know? This isn’t how I want to live.”

It’s not that uncommon a story among cranks. Mike Adams, for example, cites the origin of his crank activism (although he wouldn’t put it that way, of course) as being due to a deterioration in his health at a young age where he was, if you believe his story, diagnosed with type II diabetes at age 30. Ditto Chris Wark of Chris Beat Cancer, who became an activist after suffering from colon cancer in his 20s, an unusually young age to be stricken with the disease. The “wake up call” of a serious health problem suffered at a young age is a common story among cranks and quacks. After all, young people tend to believe that they are relatively indestructible and can expect good health for several more decades before old age and its attendant problems finally catches up with them. When poor health strikes at such a young age, people can feel cheated.

Of course, it’s great that Hari cleaned up her act, lost a bunch of weight, and saw her health problems go away. However, as all too often happens, she also attributed her health problems to more than just a poor diet and lifestyle. She blamed the evil chemicalz! She blamed processed foods, various food additives, and basically any synthetic chemical. Over time, as I’ve observed, this belief has morphed into a seeming concept that anything with a long chemical name that she can’t pronounce must be bad. Indeed, it’s evolved, as Hamblin notes, to include even things that are perfectly “natural,” such as isinglass derived from fish swim bladders. Hamblin just doesn’t seem to note that the reason isinglass is bad to The Food Babe is nothing more complex than her revulsion that a product of fish swim bladder is used to make some beers. Ditto the product of beaver anal glands and others:

At times, even, Hari’s suspicions lead her to contradict the basic tenet that natural is good. “Readers of my blog know,” she writes in the book, “that the next time you lick vanilla ice cream from a cone, there’s a good chance you’ll be swirling secretions from a beaver’s anal glands around in your mouth.” Indeed. “Called castoreum, this secretion is used as a ‘natural flavor’ not only in vanilla ice cream but also in strawberry oatmeal and raspberry-flavored products.” And, similarly, “If you chew gum, you may also be chewing lanolin, an oily secretion found in sheep’s wool that is used to soften some gums. What nutritional value do you think these disgusting additives have for your body? None! They exist just to get you to buy something fake or that shouldn’t be food, rather than a real alternative.”

Appeal to yuckiness, indeed. And to “chemically-sounding” names. Or whatever else Hari can’t understand or finds gross.

Another thing that drives Hari is an intense competitiveness, which she attributes to her talent as a high school debater. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, the goal of a debater is not to find out what is accurate from a scientific standpoint (or any other standpoint, for that matter). It is to defend her position. It is to attack her opponent’s position. It is to win the debate based on rhetoric and carefully selected evidence (not to mention carefully constructed attacks on your opponents evidence). Winning a debate involves marshaling evidence to support a given position, not following the evidence where it leads. Actually, Hari’s love of high school debate and her competitive nature, when coupled with her scientific ignorance, provide a pretty darned good explanation why she is so impervious to correction. So does this:

“There’s disconnect between the language of science and the language of common communication,” Folta said, explaining why, while many people are upset over the GRAS system, it doesn’t bother him. “You can never demonstrate that something is ‘safe.’ Whether it’s water or sugar; there’s no way. Because you can’t test every aspect. All we can say is, of all the things we’ve looked at, there’s no evidence of harm. If you said, can you prove to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is safe, I’d say, no way. With vaccines, sure, you can’t account for some extremely rare effect that might be seen in someone with a particular metabolic disorder, but that’s not to say they’re not a tremendous benefit to society as a whole.”

I guess the only good thing about my having encountered Vani Hari is that I became aware of Kevin Folta, an outspoken food scientist. He’s an impressive guy, although I must disagree with him when he says, “I don’t want to throw her under the bus; I want her to get on the bus.” The reason is that I don’t think Hari is educable. I suppose that there’s some slim chance that I’m wrong about this, but I doubt it, given how rare it is for someone who’s gone so far down the rabbit hole of pseudoscience to reverse course. I suppose we can always hope.

In any case, GRAS stands for “generally recognized as safe,” a designation used by the FDA to describe substances that have been in long use and are, well, generally recognized as safe. There might be an issue, as noted by Hamblin, that more substances have gained the GRAS designation than rate it, but the Food Babe goes far beyond science-based calls for reform of the GRAS designation every time she goes off the deep end with respect to science. For instance:

“The scientists who argue with me about this minute data, who keep saying ‘The dose makes the poison,’ Hari says, shaking her head. “Why aren’t we more cautious about the ingredients we allow in our food supply? Why are we allowing all these additives? And what’s the cumulative effect of all these additives together? That’s something people are just starting to study.”

And why are we giving so many vaccines so early? It’s “too many too soon.” What are all those chemicals in vaccines? They’re “toxins.” Truly, Vani Hari is the Jenny McCarthy of food.

And like Jenny McCarthy, Hari thrives on the opposition her crusade provokes. She thrives on victimhood. It’s how she rallies her troops. It’s what she did a a couple of months ago in response to the NPR article mentioned above. She spent a lot more verbiage claiming that her critics were all in the pay of pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness than she did actually trying to refute anything. Yes, there were some despicably misogynic comments directed at her, as, unfortunately, many women suffer online. (It always pisses me off to see such behavior from anyone on “our side.”) Unfortunately she wielded them like a shield and tried to use them to paint “our side” as nothing more than a bunch of misogynistic trolls, in the pay of Monsanto, of course.

Then there’s the issue of how she deals with reasonable criticism. Hamblin notes that Hari admits that her post about microwaving food and how it supposedly harms the food’s nutritional value (her post with the Masaro Emoto’s water woo in it). In response to some criticism, she has said:

Hari recently implemented an editorial policy on the site wherein any change or correction will be noted (“I make mistakes, I’m human.”). And she will be announcing an advisory board that will help to review her claims. She will continue to be, as she has already proven, relentless and purposeful and clearly effective. It may be too optimistic to think that both sides of these debates can grow together and learn from one another’s concerns and perspectives, but the opportunity is certainly there. Until then, the battle for moral high ground marches on.

Anyone want to guess who will be on this “advisory board”? Joel Kahn, perhaps, the woo-friendly cardiologist who gave Hari a publicity blurb for her book. Mark Hyman, the “functional medicine” guru who provided the foreword to her book? Dr. Oz? The possibilities are endless, unfortunately.

The passage by Hamblin above is another example of false equivalency. Hari’s just another party battling scientists for the moral high ground. Never mind that she peddles nothing but pseudoscience and food fear mongering and her scientist critics do their best to promote information well-grounded in science. Meanwhile, contrary to her promise, in November Hari actually began to use SEO tricks to actively thwart critics by making old posts that she now finds embarrassing disappear down the Internet memory hole by turning off archiving at Archive.org by changing the robots.txt file of her website and other tricks. Hamblin never mentions this, nor does he mention that there’s also no evidence that she’s ever made a substantive correction to something she’s said that was shown unequivocally to be wrong. Add that to the discovery that she sells products with some of the dreaded chemicals she demonizes in them (something Hamblin also fails to note), and I see no evidence that the Food Babe is ever likely to reform her pseudoscientific ways.

I have little doubt that Hari started out sincere and probably still is, mostly. Hers is a classic American “rags-to-riches” story, at least in the Internet era. Not so long ago, no one, including myself, had ever heard of Vani Hari. Now everyone knows who The Food Babe is. Unfortunately, the Internet and today’s media often don’t distinguish that much between science and pseudoscience when it comes to fame and influence.

Comments

  1. #1 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    There’s a song by The Dandy Warhols

    I’m old enough never to have heard them. I’m also old enough not to really get the sparse lyrics in this context.

  2. #2 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    Orac, to me you’re no more qualified to speak on matters of risk analysis than any lay person with a little education. Your statement about “dose makes the poison” really throws you into the room with the industry deniers, paid lobbyist. and the food babe.

  3. #3 Chris
    February 15, 2015

    Colonel Tom: “Considering that urethane is a carcinogen and polyurethane is a benign I hardly see how that usage should be a concern.”

    Formaldehyde is also a carcinogen. It is also created in your body as part of normal cell metabolism.

    Also interesting are the ways one comes into contact with urethane:

    Urethane is a naturally occurring substance that is formed during many fermentation processes (Zimmerli and Schlatter 1991). The general population is exposed primarily through ingestion of yeast breads and alcoholic beverages.

    Do you have a suggestion of how yeast fermentation should produce polyurethane instead of urethane?

    By the way, it was a sunny day so I sprayed my pear tree with an “organic” spray to ward off pear rust. The spray was a mixture of lime-sulfur and horticultural oil. I removed my clothing and took a shower, and I still get a whiff of rotten eggs. Here is the interesting thing, I have been using the stuff for over fifteen years on my small garden orchard. The first time I used it killed a small apricot tree I planted the year before.

    It turns out that while lime-sulfur is okay for most fruit trees, it will kill apricot trees. Yet it is okay for peaches, plums and almonds (which are apricots that produce seeds that do not contain cyanide!). I don’t know why, but it must be because biology is complicated. Sometimes not only is the poison in the dose, it is also in the DNA of the recipient (look up the genetic variation of coumadin dosages).

    By the way, it is a “four in one” pear tree. The Bosc, Orcas and Bartlett pears are okay for lime-sulfur, but apparently not the Comice. I still spray it because I am hoping the rootstock will protect, and pear rust is nasty.

    By the way, it is only mid-February and my peach tree has fully blossomed. I live in the northern most American city with a population over half a million (I’m going to let you guys figure it out, by the way Alaska’s total population is not much larger).

  4. #4 JP
    February 15, 2015

    @Chris:

    Slight quibble: I haven’t been a college student for a long time now. 🙂 I am a grad student, though, if one sadly adrift. I mean, my advisor hasn’t exactly been helping me out in the mental health department. I know he’s up for tenure, is over-extended in terms of teaching because a ton of people are on leave, has two kids, etc. But it’s really hard for me to make any progress when, for instance, he’s been sitting on my prospectus for two freaking months. Gah. The sad thing is that I really like him as a person, and I know he’s stressed out, so I’ve been hesitant to “prod” him about anything. One of his other students told me that she sens him actual text messages, sometime, like, “Hey, did you get the chapter I sent you?”

    Question: people start to look stunned when I relate our extended family stories, don’t these wacky things happen to everyone?

    I rather suspect not. I remember, as a teenager, when I was having what one might refer to as a nervouse breakdown, somebody was trying to be helpful and pulling it off really badly – one of the more infuriating things she said to me was, “We all have these problems.” I believe my reply was something along the lines of “No, “we” f@cking well all don’t.”

    Clearly, no dice so far in the sleep department. Oh well. Sooner or later.

  5. #5 JP
    February 15, 2015

    I’m old enough never to have heard them. I’m also old enough not to really get the sparse lyrics in this context.

    I was referring just to the title – the song popped up in my head today for whatever reason.

    They’re a Portland band, and one of the members is from near where I grew up, so I’ve been following them for a long time – since about 13 or so, I think.

  6. #6 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    @Chris, so where are you attempting to go with this, do you want to limit environmental exposure of the handful of chemicals that have been proven to be human carcinogens? Or do you want to join the rest of the real scientist that do best available science to use animal models or bacterial analysis to determine potential carcinogens?

  7. #7 Vicki
    February 15, 2015

    Colonel Tom:

    There may be things for which “the dose makes the poison” is irrelevant: I doubt there’s a dose of helium that would be poisonous (or carcinogenic) as long as it was mixed with a reasonable amount of oxygen.

    But there are quite a few things that are both necessary to human life, and poisonous in overdose: just off the top of my head, they include vitamin A, salt, and water. I don’t mean drowning, either: drinking too much water has killed people.

  8. #8 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    I do think the most germane point to this discussion is that the fresh bread in France is a small event of indescribable pleasure, and bread in the U.S. are tasteless piles of crap.

    What’s the state of packaged bread in France?

    I am, however, reminded that John Grant Fuller’s* The Day of St. Anthony’s Fire, about the 1951 outbreak of ergotism in Pont-Saint-Marie is a pretty engaging read and, IIRC,** at least includes its sources. I’m not doing a literature search to see how well it’s held up.

    * Yes, I know.
    ** Mine is boxed up somewhere.

  9. #9 Chris
    February 15, 2015

    Colonel Tom: “Your statement about “dose makes the poison” really throws you into the room with the industry deniers, paid lobbyist. and the food babe.”

    Are you going to say the same thing to me due to my gardening misadventure with lime-sulfur sprays? Would you say the same to Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus? Or to Jennifer Strange’s family. I am sure her children would appreciate that kind of comfort (interesting, the oldest was my age when my mother died).

  10. #10 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    @JP, as stressed at your professor is, you are a worthy spirit, born unique upon the world and capable of things yet unknown. No matter his situation, you must know that you are worthy and deserving of his consideration and what help as he possibly can give. Tell him, you need. Tell him, you understand how much difficulty he is in, but you need to know that things are on track, that the way forward is there. Are you being too empathetic to his plight? Don’t force him to give more than he can give, but let him know that you need, just something.

  11. #11 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    I was referring just to the title

    Since Repo Man has already come up, I’m just going to toss out Jonathan Richman. And the Incredible String Band, I suppose.

  12. #12 JP
    February 15, 2015

    @Colonel Tom:

    Oh, the thing with my advisor is hardly the source of my problems, it just doesn’t help any. I think I’ll probably start bugging him starting tomorrow or so.

  13. #13 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    @Chris, What you describe is fine with acute toxics, but not carcinogens. Best science is there no LD50 or anything at like that for carcinogens.

    @Narad I’ve never eaten package bread in France.

  14. #14 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    ^ Because, otherwise, I’m just going to start out-Jaking Jake with the web of connections that includes Terri Garr and the Talking Heads, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already done that.

  15. #15 Chris
    February 15, 2015

    JP: “I am a grad student,”

    I am a grad school dropout, twice. I still consider them college students, even though some are middle aged. But all is good, I really hope you do better than I did. I have twenty something aged children, I tend to be matronly protective.

    Yeah, not all of us have a parent die, have their cousin threaten to sue for custody, so living parent remarries quickly after just six months… which involves quickly adopting another child, actually going to the Pentagon for very fast passports and transporting the new family members to another country. A country where the 17 year old son has been taking care of his little sisters, and dealing with a Guardia National guy sleeping in the living room with his machine gun to keep us safe due to a local civil war.

    Seriously, no one else? Is there a reason the rest of room stares at us when all four of us get together to relate these stories?

    Good night folks, this has been fun.

  16. #16 Chris
    February 15, 2015

    Colonel Tom: ‘@Narad I’ve never eaten package bread in France.”

    Read the reference. All bread that uses yeast has naturally occurring urethane. As done all fermented drinks. They only discovered that fact a few years ago. It was not just added, they just found out it was a naturally occurring by product.

  17. #17 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    @JP Mine packed up half way through grad school, took a couple of his postdocs and moved. I had to throw out all my non-Newtonian blood flow models and start over. However, before he left at his “I’m going to Johns Hopkins” party, he told me “I don’t worry about you, you will be fine with or without me” in his charming Russian accent and those little cherub eyes of his. @JP, you are a clever and intelligent person, you will make it through this.

  18. #18 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    I am a grad student, though, if one sadly adrift. I mean, my advisor hasn’t exactly been helping me out in the mental health department.

    Waitwaitwait. I speak as someone who bailed from a Ph.D. program. (“Bombed out from” isn’t really accurate.)

    You should be able to speak with the departmental chair in confidence. Don’t get stuck in some weird coccoon. Grad school is a broader enterprise than some individual sponsor; you were accepted by the department.

  19. #19 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    @Chris, and benzene is produced in incomplete combustion of wood, urethane is produced in many processes and each bit you add increases risk. Are you trying to say that naturally occurring substances don’t have a RfC? I hope not.

  20. #20 JP
    February 15, 2015

    @Narad:

    Yeah, but the administrative end of the department is f***ed six ways from Sunday at the moment, too. The department secretary, who more or less runs everything and herds the cats, has been on maternity leave for several months now, and three different people, one of them a work-study student, are attempting to do her job. The chair of about ten years is on leave this semester, and filling in is an extremely absent-minded and sort of bumbling old guy, to whom a friend of mine sometimes affectionately refers to as an “old man baby.”

    I don’t really plan on dropping out, though, not considering I’ve sunk about 4 and a half years into the endeavor thus far. I mean, I’ve got a fellowship lined up for next year, anyway.

  21. #21 Colonel Tom
    February 15, 2015

    Also, I on the other hand have little problem going to sleep. @JP, the old saying is that no matter where you go, the path will find your feet. I humbly suggest just a quick confide with your adviser, make sure he understand your concerns and stress. I have some faith that most people in that situation will take some steps to help, direct guide.

  22. #22 JP
    February 15, 2015

    @Chris:

    I have twenty something aged children, I tend to be matronly protective.

    I appreciate it – I seem to inspire that in people. Perhaps it’s the fact that, whilst well into my twenties, I still look about 14 years old. Maybe people can read “functionally orphaned at a young age” on one’s face – or, more likely, one’s behavior.

  23. #23 Narad
    February 15, 2015

    The chair of about ten years

    Good L-rd. Do you have the independent counsel of related faculty? (In the Ripley category, I had Phil Agre, a man of the first water, but visiting faculty and… I hope he’s doing well. He certainly did by me. But this was all still ultimately within a coccoon.)

  24. #24 Narad
    February 16, 2015

    @JP, the old saying is that no matter where you go, the path will find your feet.

    Oh, great, a crude substitution of “destiny” for “fate.” Knock it off with the platitudes, already.

  25. #25 JP
    February 16, 2015

    It’s a small department – we’re the smallest in the University, I think* – and the chair just happens to be so excellent at the job that we have not been willing to let him step down. He’s planning to do so, though, in January of next year. The guy who’s lined up to actually take over as chair will be pretty good, I think.

    *Not long ago, a few of us were coming up with satirical taglines for the dept. –

    “The Slavic Department: We’re the Smallest.”
    “The Slavic Department: We Only Look Cheap.”
    “The Slavic Department: We’re Not Even the English Department.

  26. #26 Narad
    February 16, 2015

    OK, I’ll drop this aside from the following, as the only point was recalling my own missteps:

    The guy who’s lined up to actually take over as chair will be pretty good, I think.

    As Repo Man is ripe,* this (YT) is prime plate o’ shrimp lattice of coincidence material. (One might go looking for “U Li La Lu” and find, at 04:10, an invocation of the Jazz Butcher.)

    In other news, Eric Hamp is still kicking, but that’s straddling the Colonel’s territority.

    * Vide Jojo.

  27. #27 Narad
    February 16, 2015

    ^ There was supposed to be a Harry Smith reference packed in there as well, sorry.

  28. #28 Narad
    February 16, 2015

    ^^ Just to tie that up, I’d note that there’s more than a passing resemblance between Flannery O’Connor’s tedious fascination with bad plumbing and Tim Leary’s “Hindu” phase. Sometimes things that rise are MIRVed.

  29. #29 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    February 16, 2015

    Wonkette takes on The Food Babe (et al.)

  30. #30 Orac
    February 16, 2015

    Orac, to me you’re no more qualified to speak on matters of risk analysis than any lay person with a little education. Your statement about “dose makes the poison” really throws you into the room with the industry deniers, paid lobbyist. and the food babe.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    And if anyone on this thread sounds like The Food Babe, from my perspective it’s you. You seem completely unaware of the limitations and unreliability of carcinogenesis testing or any of the subtleties involved. At least, if you are aware of such things, you have thus far provided no indication in this comment thread of it. As for qualifications, you have yet to demonstrate to me that you are any more qualified to speak on matters of cancer risk analysis than you portray me as being.

    I remain thoroughly unimpressed with your “analyses” thus far in this thread.

  31. #31 Orac
    February 16, 2015

    There’s a song by The Dandy Warhols

    I’m old enough never to have heard them. I’m also old enough not to really get the sparse lyrics in this context.

    This is the main Dandy Warhols song I remember:

    http://youtu.be/R7hjm-ODUTU

  32. #32 Orac
    February 16, 2015

    Or do you want to join the rest of the real scientist that do best available science to use animal models or bacterial analysis to determine potential carcinogens?

    You do realize the massive limitations of these models, don’t you? Or do you? Let’s find out.

    Do you think cell phone radiation causes brain cancer?

    Do you think GMOs cause tumors?

  33. #33 Orac
    February 16, 2015

    I don’t really plan on dropping out, though, not considering I’ve sunk about 4 and a half years into the endeavor thus far. I mean, I’ve got a fellowship lined up for next year, anyway.

    Have you thought of going to the dean or one of the assistant deans relevant? Many schools have a Dean of Students.

  34. #34 Chris
    February 16, 2015

    Colonel Tom, I am not saying what you are claiming I am saying. What I am saying (again) is read the reference I linked to.

    Because all you are now proving is an inability to click on links and actually read the words on the linked page.

  35. […] BPA is just one of many “chemical” bugaboos to attract media attention. Caramel coloring? Eek! BHT? Lawds! There are entire industries out there making money off of food fears and nutrition fears. And vaccine fears. There’s enough unnecessary fear out there to power an entire media empire based on one person with vain hair, a magnifying glass, and a kindergartener’s understanding of chemistry. […]

  36. #36 JP
    February 16, 2015

    Just to tie that up, I’d note that there’s more than a passing resemblance between Flannery O’Connor’s tedious fascination with bad plumbing and Tim Leary’s “Hindu” phase.

    I always sort of like Flannery O’Connor, actually. I remember once in college, in a creative writing course, one of my peers compared my writing to O’Connors. I mentioned it to the prof – one of my favorites ever – who said something like, “Well, you do write about weirdos and outsiders pretty much exclusively, so I can see it.”

    Oh boy, Tim Leary. I remember trying to read some of his stuff as a teenager – gibberish. The thing I was trying to read, I think, largely rambled on about the future, when there will be two races of men, one living above ground – the flower people – and one living below ground, the machine people. Not only is it bizarre, it’s straight up plagiarism. I’m glad that I had the good fortune, at the tender age of 17, to fall in with a bunch of very sober-minded Soto Zennists. Jokes about New Agers and “Hindu” types were copious.

    In other news, Eric Hamp is still kicking,

    I remember a conversation my friend Yana – now finished with her PhD and busy with a newish husband and a toddler – had with her dad once that she related to me.

    “Dad, I’ve decided I’m going to go to graduate school.”
    “In what?”
    “I’m going to be a Slavist.”
    “Oh, Yana, I’m so happy.”
    “Why’s that, pop?”
    “Because those b*tches live forever.

  37. #37 JP
    February 16, 2015

    sort of like

    Sort of liked, obviously.

  38. #38 ANCILLARY COMMENT
    February 16, 2015

    Adenosine triphosphate is a dangerous compound and must be outlawed for the sake of the children!

  39. #39 Chris
    February 16, 2015

    “Adenosine triphosphate is a dangerous compound…”

    🙂

  40. […] Kjemikalier er skumle greier – mener noen. Av og til er det kanskje frykten for ordet i seg selv som dominerer. Irrasjonell frykt kombinert med kreativ markedsføring er en kjent modell for å slå seg opp, og «The Food Babe» er en versting: «The Food Babe: “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever”». […]

  41. […] it’s not enough, here’s a couple of reviews that say it all better than I ever could: “The Food Babe: “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever”” over at Respectful Insolence, and “The Food Babe is a Raving Lunatic” over at […]

  42. […] Happy ingestion of chemicals, Jumpers! (Unless, perhaps, you intend to take Food Babe at her word and outdo even the Breatharians. It’s almost like when people like her rant about […]

  43. #43 Edward
    February 18, 2015

    To return to the Food Babe: her minions are systematically flooding one or two star reviews of her book with comments that imply that the reviewer is sexist and racist, a strategy she also utilized prior to the release of her book. They also click on the “no” link to vote down the reviews and comments on reviews in terms of their usefulness, an approach that Amazon uses to rank reviews in a list of available reviews.

    This person is especially active in attacking anyone who tries to bring something other than pseudoscience to the discussion.

  44. #44 Peter Dugdale
    February 18, 2015

    On “acceptable levels” :
    Colonel Tom – Orac’s rejoinder to you was going through our heads long before he posted that. You’ve completely missed the message or are in the wrong blog.
    A few years ago there was this meme “every time you drink, you ingest molecules that have passed through the bladder of Leonardo da Vinci…” Seems relevant to this debate.

  45. #45 Calli Arcale
    http://fractalwonder.wordpress.com
    February 18, 2015

    Colonel Tom:

    Your statement about “dose makes the poison” really throws you into the room with the industry deniers, paid lobbyist. and the food babe.

    Really? Seriously, dude? That’s almost completely backwards. The Food Babe argues that infinitesimal amounts of things she can’t spell have to be insanely dangerous and cannot be tolerated, which is pretty much the *opposite* of “the dose makes the poison”. I have to wonder if you’re really paying attention to this conversation or just being contrarian. Also, the Food Babe believes herself the opposite of an industry denier. Do you even know what she claims?

    And yes, there has to be a lower limit beyond which a substance is no longer poisonous. Being a carcinogen doesn’t grant magical powers to a chemical; it will still have a lower limit to the dose needed to have a perceptible effect. Unless you believe in homeopathy, anyway.

  46. […] The Food Babe: “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever”. […]

  47. #47 Aunt Benjy
    NZ
    March 6, 2015

    Apologies for resurrecting an old thread, but this looked like the most appropriate place to post this. Anti-GMO activists are getting tetchy…

    From the web page:

    In early February, 14 senior scientists at four U.S. universities received requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to turn over three years worth of e-mail correspondence with a handful of agricultural companies, trade groups, and PR firms.

    All of these scientists have proactively engaged with the public to raise scientific awareness about agricultural innovation and contributed to the scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs.

    FoIA requests are a vital tool for a transparent democracy. However, this FoIA is clearly a last ditch witch-hunt by an anti-GMO group to mislead the public and keep scientists from doing their work.

    http://cas.nonprofitsoapbox.com/science14 if you would like to sign a petition in support of these scientists.

  48. […] approach by Monsanto to improve its public image. As “mommy bloggers” seem to be notoriously short on science comprehension but long on influence (e.g. the anti-vaccination movement), Monsanto has enlisted their help in […]

  49. […] the nutrient content of food irretrievably and her most risible claim of all, namely that “there is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever..” Given that food is made of chemicals, I wished her good luck surviving living by that […]

  50. […] å forvrenge vitenskap skaper hun frykt rundt ingredienser i mat som egentlig er fullstendig trygge. På den måten får hun folket med seg til å presse ulike produsenter til å legge om […]

  51. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, “ There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen […]

  52. #52 ScreenWorks (@screenworks)
    Vancouver
    April 6, 2015

    If the Food Babe’s ideas are so toxic, why do they continue to propagate? Why is she getting so much credibility and attention? Can’t someone debunk her and get just as much attention?

  53. #53 aeodoul
    April 7, 2015

    “Of course, as I explained, azodicarbonamide is a safe chemical that disappears during the baking.”

    Azodicarbonamide is ‘generally regarded as safe’ in the U.S., however it is banned in Australia and the EU, and the WHO has linked it repiratory issues, allergies and asthma.

    Some of the reaction products of azodicarbonamide are biurea, semicarbazide and ethyl carbamate. The primary reaction product, biurea, is believed to be excreted from the body in an unaltered form, but there are no data on how it interacts with gut flora.

    It is this last bit that is concerning. Like so many food additives, there is simply no information available on what it actually does (or may do in certain circumstances) in the body. When one sums the number of additives, their breakdown products, and possible synthetic interactions, it becomes clear that it is impossible to exhaustively test a food additive for safety. The question then becomes how do we regulate these chemicals given the overwhelming lack of information? In America, we tend to be laissez-faire about it. You need a body and a smoking gun. The EU has adopted a more precautionary approach. The difference is strictly one of preference, but I wouldn’t mind if the FDA and EPA and USDA were a little more careful with what they’ll allow in my food.

    Given the vast chasm of missing information, it is speculative at best to call azocarbonamide ‘safe’ as a food additive. It might be, but it has not been fully demonstrated, and there is at least some evidence that it can be harmful.

  54. #54 Scottynuke
    April 7, 2015

    aeodoul, thanks for omitting the fact that the “issues” with azodicarbonamide are limited to workers in facilities that deal with vast quantities of the stuff.

    Oh, and bonus points for rolling out the “gut flora” gambit. What mechanism would allow azodicarbonamide to even interact with said flora?

  55. #55 has
    April 7, 2015

    Screenworks@252:

    Can’t someone debunk her and get just as much attention?

    For your delectation, here’s Science Babe geeing it right laldy on Gawker:

    The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of Shit

    (Bonus points to Gawker for a title that’d give our worthless MSM a shrieking attack of the vapors. Extra bonus points to Ms d’Entremont for sneaking in the greatest movie line ever. And a free internets to all for giving Ms Hari the industrial bowel cleanse of a lifetime. Damn that’s going to leave a taste…)

  56. […] spend considerable time documenting the utter pseudoscience, misinformation, and downright idiocy about “chemicals” in food regularly inflicted on the public by the misguided […]

  57. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen […]

  58. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide? (AKA […]

  59. […] cause a condition called hyponatremia). But then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, " There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever." I wonder if anybody's warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide? (AKA water.) It's a […]

  60. […] Nonetheless, though her tactics and statements may be viewed as questionable by some, the Food Babe continues to build up her […]

  61. […] by the credos that if you can’t pronounce something you shouldn’t eat it and, “there’s just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” The reality is, of course, that such statements ignore high school level chemistry and are […]

  62. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen […]

  63. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen […]

  64. […] then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen […]

  65. […] Food Babe gets her you-know-what handed to her. This, after all, is the woman who said, “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” Wow. I probably shouldn’t exist, then. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the […]

  66. […] of her claims as based on a complete misunderstanding of science (you can read more here, here, and here). She was consequently inundated on social media by people questioning her […]

  67. […] Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide? (AKA […]

  68. […] du canard?) of a former computer analyst turned “food activist” named Vani Hari. Yes, I’ve been highly critical. Science Babe has been highly critical. Many bloggers and now mainstream reporters have written […]

  69. […] the air in the front of the airplane is better because that’s where the pilots sit, no chemicals of any amount should be in our food (last time I checked water what a chemical and we sort of need that to […]

  70. […] If there’s one fallacy that grips the brains of proponents of “natural healing,” “holistic medicine,” or, as the vast majority of it is, quackery, it’s the naturalistic fallacy. Basically, the idea that underlies the naturalistic fallacy is a profane worship of nature as being, in essence, perfect, with anything humans do that is perceived as somehow being “unnatural” being viewed as, at the very least, inferior and at the very worst pure evil. We see it in the pseudoscientific stylings of cranks like The Food Babe, whose epic invocations of the naturalistic fallacy are legendary in their stupidity, particularly her demonization of any chemical perceived as synthetic to the point where she actually says thinks like, “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it” and “There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” […]

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.