Science Babe vs. the Food Babe: What should we really be eating?

Science Babe vs. the Food Babe: What should we really be eating?

[Image Credit: nvanio]

I got news: after years of being asked what to eat, I’m actually gonna start talking about the topic! But before I give you the details, let me tell you about the incidents that made me make this decision, after years of avoiding to talk about the subject.

I’ve been a big fan of the Science Babe, a blogger and also chemist, who has been focused on clearing food phobia and setting the facts straight on her blog. Her post on Gawker “the Food Baby is full of shit” debunking the Food Babe went viral.

Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, is a food blogger on a quest to remove all “suspicious” ingredients from our food. She goes after big business, organizes campaigns, and get them to create healthier options for consumers.

Now this sounds great, doesn’t it?

I was first impressed with the Food Babe. I thought “we need someone like her” and promptly followed her blog.

And then I actually watched one of her campaigns. She was on a campaign against Lean Cuisine. Skip to 4:30 for the point I’m making below.

Now I’m not a supporter of most of those packaged meals companies that market their food as healthy because I know there are healthier options than getting their packaged meals (like buying fresh produce and doing the cooking yourself).

In this case Vani was going after them because they claimed their food is “all natural” while they use GMOs that in her opinion are dangerous.

Hari questioned the representative about why they label the product as “all natural” when there’s a 70% chance that GMOs are in there.

Sounds kinda reasonable right? Especially if you’re anti-GMO this sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

Only that she’s asking those questions to a simple hotline representative, not the Vice President of Marketing! She cannot expect to get the right answers about a marketing decision from the phone representative, she needs to speak to an executive to get the facts.

The hotline representative is not qualified to answer such questions so she’s trying her best to respond, and Vani calls this attempt “backpedaling.”

She then ends the video with an anti-GMO campaign.

I did not tell you this story to discuss GMOs. I’m gonna hold this for a later post. I only told the story because this phone call is what first alerted me about Hari.

Asking the customer representative marketing questions, expecting that the representative would have to dodge the question, was a cheap move to impress her audience. But it was not fair. And it was not right.

Now this particular incident is minuscule compared to the facts that the Science Babe discusses in her Gawker article. As the New York Times report:

“Scientists splutter with frustration that to Ms. Hari, the word “chemical” is always a pejorative and that she yells fire about toxins but ignores that fruits and vegetables are full of naturally occurring toxins, and that the dose makes the poison.”

But this post is not about the Food Babe, or the Science Babe. It’s about discussing this question – what should we really be eating, and who deserves our trust? Who should we be listening to when it comes to what to put in our mouth?

Even clever people fall prey to fake claims.

A few weeks ago I received a forwarded e-mail from my dad. It was about an alleged study from Princeton University. The e-mail claimed the study proved that having magnets on the fridge’s door is harmful. Supposedly there’s electromagnetic activity that messes with the food resulting in a 87% increase in cancer incidents.

As soon as I read it, I could clearly see that this e-mail was bogus; that there was no such study and it was all a lie. Magnets with not just magnetic but electromagnetic activity? And strong enough to alter the food significantly enough to increase cancer risk by 87%?

This is totally unreasonable. I don’t even know what you need to do to actually increase your cancer risk that much. Even a simple google search for “fridge magnet cancer” reveals that this is actually a well-known hoax. But still I was concerned:

How can a smart, educated guy like my dad, fall for this nonsense?

I mentioned this incident to a couple that had invited my husband and me over for lunch. The moment I finished the story, my friend said her mother-in-law used to have a door fridge full with magnets. She took them all down after reading that fridge magnets cause cancer.

Apparently it was not just my dad who believed the lies. It’s also other people who fall prey to even obviously false claims.

If only false claims were limited to fridge magnets.

There’s an abundance of misinformation. From detox diets to miracle super-foods, people are getting obsessed about what we should really be eating.

And a new type of eating disorder came up: orthorexia.

Orthorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. It is important to differentiate between healthy individuals who choose specific diets for any number of reasons, and those who exhibit obsessive compulsive behavior that leads to an unhealthy condition or lifestyle.”

I’d normally not worry about orthorexia. But I’ve seen people close to me getting more and more obsessed about what we should really be eating. No, I’m not suggesting they suffer from orthorexia. But they do worry about food quite a bit: From evil sugar, to evil fat, to empty calories, it almost seems like a miracle some of us can actually eat without any feelings of guilt!

“What did you have for lunch today?” my mom asked.

“Pork with mushrooms” I replied.

“White mushrooms?”

“Yes”

“Oh I read white mushrooms are bad because they are artificially whitened”

Seriously? Instead of having a carefree conversation about a trivial matter like what we had for lunch the discussion went over to whether those were the right kind of mushrooms! For your information, there are types of white mushrooms that don’t need whitening. They’re just white on their own!

Anyway, I’m sidetracking. What I’m trying to say is that witnessing the gullibility of people along with the state of fear around food makes me change my attitude about nutrition.

For years people have been asking me to talk nutrition. Yet I have avoided the subject. I recognized there was a diet confusion but it all seemed so complicated that I doubted my ability to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

If the experts cannot agree (or so I thought) about what we should really be eating, then why would I be right?

Even a reputable and well-known doctor like Dr. Oz has been grilled for promotions he runs on his shows:

But wait a minute – who are really the “experts” who will let us know what we should really be eating for optimal health? Gastroenterologists? Endocrinologists? Licensed nutritionists? Chemists? Longevity experts? Naturopaths? A US government organization? An EU organization? All of them together in a room giving a verdict?

By deferring responsibility to the “experts” and not even researching the subject of “what to eat” I serve no one.

People I love fall prey to big scams and live in a state of fear around food and nutrition. With every meal, they’re wondering – is this the right thing to eat?

Maybe I bear some responsibility for the fact that scammers profit by selling miracle foods, supplements, and pills.  Maybe my reluctance to engage with the subject unintentionally helps the scammers profit from people’s fears. I’ve witnessed quite a few doctors promising false cures.

Because yes there are doctors who intentionally promise things that don’t work (and no I’m not referring to Dr. Oz.) If smart people believe a fake fridge magnet study, just imagine the believability of an MD telling you what to eat (or not to eat).

And as a citizen it is my duty to have an informed opinion about public policy issues – like GMOs. Dodging the subject is only dodging the responsibility.

Now the good news: I’ve come to discover that for many issues I thought were controversial, there’s actually scientific consensus.

They’re not controversial as I used to think. The only thing that makes them “controversial” has nothing to do with science and everything to do with fear and marketing.

And that’s why I’m creating the “What Should We Really Be Eating?” blog series. In this series I plan to discuss:

  • detox diets
  • GMOs
  • common scams
  • vilified food groups
  • what’s actually “natural”
  • post a comment with what you want me to research and write about

With this series I’ll be answering some of my own questions about food, and also inform myself about public policy issues. Not having an opinion or just blindly following who “seems” to be right is no longer acceptable. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing everything I discover with you.

And I commit to back my claims with data and approaching each subject with an open mind.

So now, it’s your turn. Please post a comment and let me know what you’d like me to research and talk about. I’m really looking forward to your feedback.

Tags: .