Let’s start with a disclaimer. Vani Hari’s blog, foodbabe.com, which started in April 2011, is likely to put you permanently off ready-made/processed food for life. With 3 million unique readers across the globe, the blog catapulted her to fame. It was not all good publicity, admittedly. Critics, including a vocal set of scientists, consistently point out that she has no formal background in nutrition. Nevertheless, the ‘Food Babe Army’ seems to keep growing. So much so that Time magazine called her one of the thirty most influential people on the Internet, in a list that includes Swedish gamer PewDiePie, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
Her single-minded pursuit of the truth behind testing practices in the food industry, chemical food additives and genetically-modified food-crops has drawn responses from major food companies like Subway, Chick-fil-A, Kraft Foods, Panera Bread, Whole Foods Market, Lean Cuisine, McDonald’s, General Mills, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, Yoforia and Moe’s Southwest Grill. These have not always been complimentary.
North Carolina-based Vani has packaged what she has been saying for four years into The Food Babe Way , a book that tells us why embracing American food is a less-than-bright idea. At a recent book-promotion event in Chennai, she spoke about how she suffered because of her unhealthy food choices (processed snacks made of corn/soya, doused with cheese) and hidden toxins. She said, “I researched food, switched to a healthy diet, stayed away from poison on my plate, and got well. So go organic folks — eat greens, travel healthfully. Wellness is knowing what you are putting into your body, what you are exposing your body to, not outsourcing your health decisions. Research suggests toxins suppress good bacteria too. Antibiotics and steroids sap your energy. Their overuse creates a breeding ground for super-bugs that infest water, vegetables and everything else. These antibiotics are also given to farm animals kept in inhuman conditions to protect them from disease, to promote their growth. And we eat them.”
Cautioning people to be wary of chemicals in food, she explained, “Coal tar-based food dyes are killers. All diseases, auto-immune to cancer, can be linked back to toxins in food. When a big-label food outlet says its sandwich is fresh, does it mean the bread is too? Why would food companies sell items that do not improve health?”
India’s food tradition is the healthiest, according to Vani. “Look at the medicinal spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, fennel, bay leaves and caraway seeds. They come together in our menus to serve us nutritionally. Ginger and turmeric have been tested and proved to have cancer-fighting properties.” Vani urged people to buy and support genuine organic products to bring down prices. “Grow your own food, so you subsidise organic living. Eat less, but eat organic. Find ways to make it affordable. Eat fennel roasted at home, not candied, coloured, sugar-coated stuff,” she said.
Thanks to her, and many other contemporary food crusaders, a silent food revolution has been unleashed. There is so much more information on food available now, causing people to finally ask what goes into their food. “You should ask yourself if the food you are eating serves you or corporate greed. Check if it has artificial flavours, MSG or highly-processed oils. Go back to coconut oil and ghee. Do not buy prepared food or food ingredients that don’t post transparent information on labels. Good, safe food is that which has not been altered in any way.” Vani ended by saying that it’s important for more people to become food activists: “I have inspired multi-million companies to look into what goes into food products and serve food with integrity. My petitions on chemicals and colours in popular American box-foods got millions of signatures. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘No’. As the old saying goes, ‘No mud, no lotus’ (Thieh Naht Hanh). Let go of fear, the universe has your back.”