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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Food Woo 2014: Year in Review

by Alison Hudson

December 29, 2014

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I enjoy cooking and I enjoy eating, and so it's not too surprising that I have also begun to enjoy writing about "food woo" here on Skeptoid. Here at the end of the year, I thought it would be fun to give a look back at the significant happenings of the last year connected to the food topic. These are some of the more notable moments in food woo that I noticed in 2014.

Food Babe Rises

Arguably one of the bigger developments of the year is the rise of Vani Hari, a.k.a. the Food Babe, as a voice for the scientifically ignorant and easily frightened. Hari catapulted into the spotlight in February, when she was able to use the force of an online petition (backed by more than 50,000 people unable to pronounce the word "azodicarbonamide") to get Subway to remove an ingredient from their bread. Since then she's grown her social media base into a self-proclaimed "Food Babe Army" and, not surprisingly, has written a book scheduled to see print next year. She has drawn strong criticism from scientists and other academics, but when has reasoned criticism ever stopped someone like Hari?

Gluten-Free Diets Continue Trending

To the chagrin of skeptical foodies everywhere, the gluten-free food fad was probably the biggest of 2014 (not counting organic, which is so ubiquitous nowadays as to be practically normal). This crass marketing trend has more than doubled in sales in the past four years; it has also produced such inane products as gluten-free shampoo and gluten-free rice, At this rate, gluten-free is apparently going to stick around at least as long as the low-carb trend did a decade ago.

GMO Labeling Laws Fizzle

2014 was a big year for GMO labeling laws ... or at least it would have been if any of the many efforts to pass such laws were successful. Big ballot initiatives in both Oregon and Colorado were defeated, and the one legislative law that passed, in Vermont, is facing a not-at-all unexpected legal challenge from the Grocery Manufacturer's Association. Meanwhile, savvy marketers have saturated the aisles with products labeled "GMO-free" Since GMO-free is technically part of the organic growing process, it was for many products as simple as adding eight characters to the label, undoubtedly making for a great return on investment.

Mike Adams Guns for GMO Scientists

Speaking of GMOs, July 2014 also saw NaturalNews founder Mike Adams losing the argument via Godwin's Law when he compared GMO scientists to Nazis and (allegedly) followed it up with a website essentially dedicated to creating a hit-list of GMO supporters. The original rant has since been edited and the website taken down, but not before the FBI got involved. Adams has denied any culpability in the whole thing. [Links to archives of many of the pages involved have been gathered here, if you're curious.]

Coconut, Quinoa, and Cacao

In terms of individual ingredients, there was no single superstar this year, the way that something like acai berry appeared in years past. Still, several food items were noticeably prominent on store shelves.
  • First, coconut oil has begun to dominate store shelves everywhere. There are two things apparently driving the rise in popularity of this particular oil: its status as a gluten-free favorite and its popularity in oil pulling.

  • Second, there was a definite move towards the use of "ancient grains" in product (and product labeling) this year, and of all the grains used under that label quinoa has become the darling. Not surprisingly, its rise in popularity is also being driven by the gluten-free fad.

  • Finally, 2014 was the year someone looked up 'cocoa' in the thesaurus, saw that it could be called 'cacao', and decided that cacao looked a lot better next to organic on a food label. Technically this is a thing that began in 2013, but it's here in 2014 that 'cacao' has really spread as a trendy buzzword.

Did I miss anything? What do you think were some of the notable moments in food woo in 2014? Let me know in the comments.

 

by Alison Hudson

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