“The Fear Babe” is the Takedown Vani Hari Deserves

My first encounter with Vani Hari, food crusader who calls herself “Food Babe,” came in April 2014. A friend of mine asked me to check out a blog post going around Facebook called “8 Beers that You Should Stop Drinking Immediately.” Since I like doing things for my friends, and I like beer, I took a look at it.

It turned out to be a cut and paste of a cut and paste, with the original content coming from someone called “Food Babe.” I’d never heard of her, and in retrospect, kind of wish I hadn’t. Because her post, called “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer,” was so wrong that it actually made me slightly dumber. It was full of hyperbole, lies, scare tactics, weasel words, and poorly done “research” – all of which would become more familiar to me as I read more of her nonsense, and attempted to debunk it for Skeptoid.

I’d later take on her ludicrous assertion that the Nazis invented the microwave (they didn’t), as well as her terrible and negligent post scaring pregnant women into not taking the glucose tolerance test because glucose is bad. And as dumb as these are, they’re not even close to the worst things she’s spewed onto the web. As Food Babe’s profile grew and she drew more followers into her web of woo, many excellent science writers began debunking her, pointing out her abuses of logic, her hypocrisy, and her rampant chemphobia.

fear babe

And so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House, a new book by three of said excellent science writers, Mark Alsip, Kavin Senapathy, and Marc Draco. The authors have pooled their talents to write a comprehensive, highly-vetted, logical, and layman-friendly takedown of Vani Hari – not the person, but the Food Babe persona, and the dangerous nonsense it spews out.

While it might seem excessive to spend over 400 pages debunking the ravings of one person, The Fear Babe does more than that. It serves as a primer on complicated, easily-misunderstood subjects that the media often seems like it can’t cover accurately. Concepts like genetically modified organisms, toxicity, what chemicals actually do, and gluten intolerance are hard to talk about in an accurate, simple way. Food Babe takes advantage of that to fill her readers’ heads with flawed logic, misinformation, and a desperate need to buy the products she’s selling. Fear is easy, science is hard.

The authors combat this fear through science – and they do it in a way virtually anyone will understand. They walk readers through Vani Hari’s claims, and don’t just say that they’re wrong, but explain why they’re wrong. From Hari’s infamous Tweet claiming that the flu shot is a tool for genocide, to her disturbing call for fans not to use sunscreen because vitamin D is good for you, to her misplaced crusades against the “yoga met chemical” in bread, Alsip, Senapathy, and Draco demolish them with evidence, science, and logic.

One perfect example of this is her hysterical fear-mongering over GMO’s. The authors rightly point out, in a display of scientific literacy that’s so simple I’m a bit embarrassed that I never thought of it before, that much of what the Food Babe points out as “GMO” not only isn’t a genetically modified organism, but can’t possibly be. Things like “non-GMO” salt, sunscreen, or shampoo, all of which Hari has pushed on her website, can’t be genetically modified organisms because they don’t have genes and aren’t organisms.

Isn’t that the simplest thing? Salt doesn’t have genes. Sunscreen isn’t an organism. Making readers afraid of “GMO salt” and selling them expensive “non-GMO salt” is a marketing fraud so brazen that PT Barnum would call the FDA. Likewise, many of the GMO boogeymen she demonizes, such as sugar, wheat, coffee, meat, and artificial flavors, can’t be genetically modified or aren’t. Either they’re not organisms, or there’s no scientific benefit from doing so.

The authors point out the flaws inherent in the very persona Food Babe has created. Vani Hari claims she lost a great deal of weight, cured her allergies, and became a better person by cutting sugar, flour, “GMO’s”, processed food, and “chemicals” out her diet. Putting aside whether this is actually true, and remember that the book isn’t an attack on Vani Hari as a person, the authors address the fact that this isn’t going to work as a weight loss technique for everyone – or anyone.

Fitness and healthy weight don’t stem from purging chemicals from your life, which is impossible, anyway. They stem from balanced eating and exercise. A long section of the book points out in detail why eating a lot of sugar and processed food is bad for you – and it’s not because of evil toxins and chemicals. It’s because they don’t satiate your hunger – so you eat more. Eating more calories makes you retain fat. Eating fewer calories and exercising makes you burn fat.

Obviously, it’s more complicated than that – but it’s not really that complicated. It’s logic.

And logic has never been an area where the Food Babe has excelled. The Fear Babe gives a laundry list of logical fallacies, and don’t just accuse Hari of using them, but points out specific instances where she’s used them. Everything from appeal to emotion to tu quoque – she’s used them all, many times. Often in tweets and Facebook posts that she’s since deleted, though the Internet never forgets. In fact, the authors point out some of the insanity in her earliest posts, things she’s long since either deleted or claimed she doesn’t remember writing. We should have seen this coming, right from the post years ago when she ranted about airplanes not using “pure oxygen” in passenger cabins.

Finally, the authors don’t pull any punches in pointing out Vani Hari’s hypocrisy. She demonizes chemicals and artificial additives, then sells (and claims to use) products that contain those very chemicals and artificial additives. Makeup, lotion, deodorant, hair products – all of these have been sold on the Food Babe website and put cash in her pocket, despite containing compounds she’s attacked other companies for using. Compounds that have been found to be perfectly safe, mind you.

Either Hari doesn’t know the ingredients of the products she sells, doesn’t use the products she says she uses, or knows these ingredients are safe and doesn’t care, as long as she makes affiliate money from selling them.
All of these possibilities should be disturbing to anyone in her “Food Babe Army.” In fact, this book would be the perfect holiday present for anyone you know who’s been suckered into her web of woo. Maybe they won’t read it, or they’ll dismiss the authors as paid shills in the pocket of Big Pharma. But at least you’ll have tried.

Vani Hari has birthed so much nonsense that my only quibble with the book is that it didn’t include some of my favorite of her rambles, such as her “advice” that pregnant women should avoid the glucose tolerance test in favor of jelly beans (non-GMO ones, of course, because jelly beans are living things) or a banana. That, and the pre-release copy of the book I read needed a good copy edit – because Hari and her followers are sure to jump on every typo as a sign of the authors not knowing what they’re talking about.

But they do. The Fear Babe is as researched and readable a takedown of any scientific charlatan as I’ve ever read. It’s a must read for both her fans and her opponents. Especially her fans.

About Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild is a writer and editor based in Pasadena. He writes about scams, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and pop culture fads. He's also a playwright and screenwriter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rothschildmd.
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36 Responses to “The Fear Babe” is the Takedown Vani Hari Deserves

  1. Paul Carter Block says:

    I confess that, before having read Mike’s article, I had never heard of this woman. So I looked her up. Mike, you’ve been too kind! Certainly, the processed food industry needs a little agitprop to shake it out of its smug peddling of junk to the uninformed masses but a more credible crusader than the Food Babe is needed. Public concern about air quality in commercial airliners is valid but not because it is “mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50 per cent”; I love the indignation in this. And microwave ovens do pose a small element of risk if used incorrectly but not because the waves create harmful effects in water in the same way that saying the words “Hitler and “Stalin” near water do. But, in spite of disgorging the most outrageous nonsense each time she opens her mouth or puts pen to paper, Ms Hari is a best-selling author, and that indicates that the world wants to hear and read crap, and in large quantities. Vani Deva Hari should be inducted into the Fake Science Hall of Fame alongside George Adamski and John Keel. I salute her and, taking a leaf from her book, will begin my own campaign promoting the staggering health benefits of Quantum Homeopathy.

    • Nosey Nick says:

      Fear of “processed food” amuses me. “You mean like bread?”, “No! Bread isn’t processed. I mean”… So you take wheat, you put it through a process to separate the wheat from the chaff, then a grinding process, a sieving process, then a mixing process to combine with water, yeast (that just underwent an activation process), salt, sugar, shortening (a sort of processed fat), put it through a kneading process, butter it, put it through a rising process at a carefully-controlled temperature, a baking process at another, but bread isn’t “processed food”. Cheese that’s been salted and squeezed through a thin slot it processed. Aha. 😉

      • Bill Kowalski says:

        On the nosey, Nosey. I used to think the main difference between processed food and the other kind was the size of the factory it was made in, until I visited some food manufacturing plants and saw the “all natural” stuff coming down the same lines as the other kind. I was shocked to learn the “wholesome” variety of bread is not lovingly made one loaf at a time by smiling bakers in flour-dusted flannel shirts. Oh no, it is made in giant machines by people in hairnets.

        By the way, this article has me quite agitated. I remember eating some Twinkies when I was an 8 year old kid. Fifty years later, the day they finally catch up with me must be getting closer.

  2. Lucien says:

    Sounds personal to me. Three big male scientists…in sweeping support of GMO and additives. Eh.

    • Tyler Wood says:

      One of the authors/scientists, Kavin Senapathy is a woman, who is also pictured on the cover. But nice try making this about sexism. Also, I don’t think you understand what the book is about.

    • claudia says:

      qLucien: how about you learn to read ? Kavin Senapathy is a woman. And with all due respect – the pure bullshit the clueless Vani hari spews out needs to be crushed every single day in the name of science. Not pesudoscience babbler like her – which also try to sell their products.
      So how about that.
      Any anyone who has a real clue about biochemistry , chemistry and food science calls those people out.

    • Nissim Hadar says:

      Lucien – didn’t you read that the “Internet never forget”.

    • Rob says:

      Funny how simply asking for what evidence they have showing GMO are dangerous morphs into “sweeping support of GMO.”

    • Oriol says:

      Ha! Your absolutely wrong!! Check your vision and have a look at the book cover lol.

    • JIMJFOX says:

      Having made a tool of yourself on line, what’s your next ambition??

  3. MBDK says:

    Kavin Senapathy is hot, hot hot! Now you readers will, of course, draw your own conclusions, but to me, it is her intelligence that makes her so. Yes she’s attractive physically, but it is definitely her brains that set her apart from others, IMHO. That said, I thank you for an excellent article and know a couple of people I want to point it out to, but as you know – you can lead a horse…

  4. ausGeoff says:

    I’m wondering if Vani Hari is a descendant of Mata Hari? They both demonstrate(d) a total lack of ethical behaviour, and a public perception as show ponies.

  5. Lisa R says:

    Glad to see this! I am tired of crazy girl, and her viral rants that are clearly emotional, and not substantiated.

  6. Terry Licia says:

    OMG, THANKS, Mike! I’d not heard of this book or “Food Babe” but that FB friend of mine (that I know in real life ,,, lol) is ALWAYS posting crap that I just itch to prove wrong! It’s just so easy to do that it really makes me wonder: who ARE these people that believe this crap? Um .. wait. I know who they are! My cousins in Texas! They’re some of the original ‘Jesus Freaks” of the TV evangelical movement that began in the 70’s, and today, they all attend mega-churches and if one of them isn’t involved in a shady product MLM scheme, then another one is! If the subject matter has an “-ism” attached to its name, one of my anthro profs said, NEVER TRUST IT! lolol He’s been proven right so many times it’s astounding.

    But it worries me that so many of our fellow Americans fall for this malarkey! Were they not born with a lick of common sense? Did they drop out of school in the 6th grade? But that’s not even a good excuse – my grandfather made several fortunes in his life, and he did not get past 7th grade! So … where did all these half-baked theories and theorists come from? Why are they getting such a huge crowd of followers? Doesn’t anyone apply logic to anything? Personally, I question the baptismal waters! GRIN — when they are dunked to ‘remove their sins,’ I think the water also removed parts of their brains!

    • Terry Licia says:

      OH and btw, I am buying this book for my friend for Xmas! GREAT book review! Thanks!

    • Les Tihor says:

      What do your attacks on Christians have to do with the topic of this article. Stick to the topic and keep your other irritations to an appropriate venue.

    • Sean says:

      My father being a minister and mechanical engineer brought water from the river Jordan to be added one drop at a time to the holy water font of the church he was pastor for. I don’t understand this.
      He would also add several drops of bleach to the holy water. I understand this.

  7. K Chang says:

    I dubbed her a “meme terrorist” when she was on her azo rant. May she suffer the fate of obscurity and infamy of being an ignoramus.

  8. DanielWainfleet says:

    FoodBabe has reportedly about 3 million followers.I follow the group Banned By Food Babe on Facebook, VaniHari will ban commenters from her site if they post disagreements, criticisms, or ask awkward questions.Some of her pasts articles, like the one on air travel, were so idiotic that she deleted them, but can be found elsewhere, e.g. on Science 2.0…… There is a satiric site Food Broad . And Science Babe wrote a debunking piece on Food Babe.Which resulted in a slanderous personal attack from Vani Hari. Just this fall (Sept 2015) VH said “Lemon juice is good because it prevents cancer because it’s alkaline.” Really.

    • Sean says:

      Why won’t she ban DHMO? It would be the ultimate takedown….bwuhahahaha

      (most know however DHMO, DiHydrogen MonOxide is a spoof of the chemical name for water)

  9. Athro Dai says:

    I worked in Chemistry laboratories from 1961 to 1990, 5 as a Lab Assistant, then the rest as a professional Chemist (i e a professional Scientist with a Chemistry+Biochemistry degree. I later added profession-entry training in the History of Science applied to Medicine). As far as the IUPAC and its predecessors is concerned, anything you can weigh in a container is a chemical, and since around 1850 any compound whose molecular structure is built from Carbon atoms connected by covalent bonds (first hypothesized then) is an organic chemical. Tough luck Rudolf Steiner, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, and the pre-WW2 Lord Northbourne of the day, who collectively coined the idea of the farm as an “organism” whence “organic farming” and “organic food”. Steiner’s Doctorate in Literature dealt with Natureromanticist Fichte. Pfeiffer’s “honorary Doctorate” was awarded by a German School of Herbalism, as far as I could find out by googling, but I could not uncover anything about the science content of Agriculture training at Oxford University in the relevant period. Petrochemicals got declared sinful because the Haber-Bosch Process made Nitrogenous fertilizers vastly cheaper than applying animal Urine and manure. As far as i can tell, Mineral Oil is organic because of its origin, likewise Coal. Pregnant women should be tested for Gestational Diabetes, whence the Glucose Tolerance testing. I could go on at length.

    • Sean says:

      Agreed. And, envious of your career record. Almost everything can be described as a chemical. I have been struggling a bit with substances such as oxygen, diatomic, chemical, element or compound? And also alloys, compounds, elemental, what? However, it is safe to say that almost every material we come into contact with is composed of chemicals. Except ghosts.

    • Mudguts says:

      Pity Brian never extended the Steiner subject past a few posts. The etheric and cow horns in one (with the woo music) was superb.

      (Biodynamic Agriculture
      Is biodynamic agriculture a modern innovation, or a throwback to the Dark Ages?
      by Brian Dunning
      Skeptoid Podcast #26
      February 10, 2007)

      Its good to know that other people are aware of these guys . We wouldnt have the ancient cosmology (read zodiac) charlatans we have today if more people read up.

      Generally they refuse to because of a commitment fallacy.

  10. Toucan Sam says:

    Vani Hari is the stupidest and more disgustingly opportunistic charlatan on the face of the earth. Good for you Kavin.

  11. C Hoffman says:

    Well, one good thing the Food Babe has done: uncovered exactly how stupid and gullible the American public really is. This will aid the media and the government in herding the general public in the direction they want. Anyone using such unAmerican activities such as scientific process, critical thinking and common sense will be easier to spot and neutralize. 😉

  12. Eric R. says:

    Good book review, I had never heard of this obvious fraud Vari the “Food Babe” Hari, I shall look into her website. I have a bunch of friends who must have heard of her before because they have been saying all these silly, and flat out poppycock for years now, and now I have a pretty good idea of where they got these notions, “organic non gmo salt” NaCl has no carbon in it, it has no chromosome’s, erg it’s NOT an organism, it’s sodium and chlorine, both are chemical elements, oh oh Heaven forbid!!! Boy I’m sure glad I don’t ingest any of that stuff, and then there are the free radical’s caused by oxidation, oxygen another chemical element! I’m going to swear off that stuff!!!!! I’m exhaling all of that dangerous atmosphere full of oxygen and that other chemical element nitrogen!!!!… Sorry I had to have some fun there…these kinds of people sell nothing but fraud, a form of theft and as such it’s the old Caveat Emptor, buyer beware! These frauds of science should scare the day lights out of common folks, but that’s who they sell their lies too, and their product is fear. Their publisher is on on their scam too. Both should be exposed, and then shunned by the very people they sell their lies too. The truth tends to come out when one shines the ol’ spot light of truth of these peoples lies. Thanks, I shall now look her up online and share your review with a few of my friends who won’t appreciate it! Good job…

  13. Sean says:

    Having grown up a hippy child living on a commune (among many other places) I am oh-so familiar with food babes. It’s a personality meme. You can find representatives everywhere and ‘food babe’ just happens to be an attractive (I am applying artistic license to the word ‘attractive’ here) and popular example of one.
    These characters, the foodiefreaks, simply use an emotional appeal in the face of the complexity of science. It’s nothing more than a childish tantrum which lacks scientific understanding and insight. If science could be reduced to tears and the gnashing of teeth these foodies would be nobel prize recipients.
    The big problem is that these ’emotionists’ (vs scientists) are able to connect with people very effectively. There is a reason science is very difficult and that is the necessity of removing ones personal attachment to the results. When you introduce emotions and feelings into the cold realm of science all hell breaks loose. While teaching the important science behind the sound bites is very important it is also critical to realize that the character represented by ‘fool babe’ is in a position to always ‘win first’ and that every time you go up against the misinformation as a scientist you have an uphill battle ahead of you. The moment you let down the fight the misinformation automatically rises into the lead position. This is not a contest that can be ‘won’. This is an effort that must continue into the unforeseeable future.

  14. Torchwood says:

    Thanks for applying a soothing balm on my virulent allergy to stupid. I feel much better.

  15. Nuna says:

    I don’t have to look any further than the name of the person who wrote this article to see that it’s bullshit.

  16. Danett says:

    This post intrigued me enough to look at the book at the bookstore…and the first chapter was intriguing enough to buy it. I’m enjoying it so far… so thanks! Gotta love skeptoid.com

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