I had to share this article, because we all fall prey to so-called “insiders” and “experts” who claim they know everything, but in the end confuse the public even more.
She made the front page of the Financial Times as the blogger who humbled Big Food and whose latest campaign for transparency in beer ingredients left “The King of Beers,” Anheuser Busch InBev, and close running rival SabMiller clamoring like Neville Chamberlain to appease a bully. “The rapid response by AB InBev and SABMiller—which capitulated to Ms Hari’s demands within 36 hours—underscores the growing power of social media over corporate policy,” wrote the FT’s Consumer Industries Editor, Scheherazade Daneshkhu.
Ironically, one of the key factoids in blogger Vani Hari—aka, “The Food Babe’s”—attack on Big Beer was that they “even use fish swim bladders” to make their product without putting this self-evidently dodgy fact on the label; the implication is that beer should not from fish bladder be made. Yet, isinglass—as dried fish bladder is Tolkienesquely called—has been used to clarify beer, wine and liquor since the early 18th century, and its manufacture was widespread in Colonial America (a versatile compound, it was also mixed with gin and used as a glue to repair broken china). While this may cause vegans to pause before a draught, isinglass has been used and consumed without incident for centuries.
Unfortunately, this kind of clarification, where a blogger takes something commonplace and gives it a nefarious social media friendly twist to advance an agenda, did not make the Financial Times, Business Insider, USA Today, NBC News, and undoubtedly many more news stories that uncritically reported the Food Babe’s victory.
Fortunately, there are real experts on the Internet, and they are not pulling any punches. The Food Babe “is the Jenny McCarthy of the food industry,” writes “beer snob” and cancer surgeon David Gorski on Science-Based Medicine. “Of course,” he adds, “I don’t mean that as a compliment.”
As Gorski notes, Hari’s strategy is to “name a bunch of chemicals and count on the chemical illiteracy of your audience to result in fear at hearing their very names.” Anti-freeze in beer? Propylene glycol has many uses, but the reason it’s used in de-icing solutions is that it lowers the freezing temperature of water. That’s it. There are no concerns about toxicity because you’d have to consume huge quantities of it very quickly to have any effect. More to the point writes Gorski, it’s not, as Derek Zoolander might think, in the beer, it’s in the cooling system for the beer; it just appears that propylene glycol is an ingredient because the law requires listing every production process.
That the media should give The Food Babe a free pass as an expert or as a credible consumer watchdog is especially troubling when you look at some of her other claims, as recorded by the doctors at Science-Based Medicine. As infectious disease specialist Mark Crislip MD noted, Hari out goops Gwyneth Paltrow on the feelings of water by claiming that if you expose water to the words “Hitler” and “Satan” it will change its physical structure in exactly the same way as if you microwaved it. She believes getting the flu shot will give you cancer from all the “chemicals.” She is, naturally, against GMOs.
As Gorski notes, “companies live and die by public perception. It’s far easier to give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public. And, make no mistake, blackmail is exactly what Vani Hari is about.”
Actually, a better word would be “quackmail.”
So when are journalists going to hold truth up to this new self-promoting social media juggernaut? Why have so many news stories avoided questioning her claims as they would question her targets in the food industry? Surely, someone who believes that saying “Satan,” repeatedly, to a glass of water will alter the water’s physical properties needs to be treated with a dash of skepticism—no?