To follow by Email (RSS Feed)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Taking On the Merchants of Food Fear


New book available 10/29 from Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and independent book stores


(This post originally appeared on Forbes 10/29/15)
Fear has always been an effective tool for exercising influence in society, but the internet age has enabled fear-based marketing to move to a whole new level.  This is particularly true when it comes to generating fears about food as a means to sell alternatives, supplements and various magical offerings (woo).  One of the most successful and egregious examples of this phenomenon is Vani Hari, the self proclaimed “Food Babe.”  There is a new book coming out on Thursday the 29th  titled “The Fear Babe.” The book executes a thorough take-down of Hari’s claims, methods and business model.  The content is well described by the sub-title: “Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House."

Vani Hari has a degree in computer science and once worked for a large consulting firm.  She has no background in nutrition, toxicology, medicine, or agronomy, but has no qualms about pontificating on almost any issue or about giving advice for how people should protect themselves from what she paints as an sinister, unregulated and callous industry.  She created a website and enlisted her own “Food Babe Army” to supposedly protect society from the evils of the food industry.  She has been successful at times in bullying major food companies to make changes in their offerings, not based on real issues but on the angst she has been able to generate.  Of course along the way she promotes a range of diet supplements and other magical offerings to net a nice profit.  Hari is not alone in this “create fear - sell newsletters and magical stuff” sector, which also includes Dr. MercolaThe Health RangerDr. Oz and others.
 One of the biggest challenges for the authors of the “The Fear Babe” is how to address the staggering list of topics about which Ms. Hari has generated disinformation: vaccines, microwaves, yoga mat components, GMOs, food colorings, sugar, Stevia, Silly Putty, pesticides, preservatives….. to name only a few.  The book is over 400 pages long because that is what it took - not only to address the technical issues, but also to document the emotive strategies and logical fallacies that Hari so deftly employs.  The book also includes examples of the push-back that these authors and others have given as the flood of Food Babe distortions emerged (Twitter and comment threads, blog postings…).

A public domain picture of Hari


The primary authors of “Fear Babe” are active players in the realm of science communication and myth busting.  They are not in any way employees or “shills” of the system, just people who are outraged by seeing people manipulated.  You can feel that in their writing.  Marc Draco was a veteran member of Banned by Food Babe and started the site, "Food Babe in Black and White" which compiled memes about Hari prior to organizing this book effort.  Mark Alsip writes the blog Bad Science Debunked.   Kavin Senapathy is a co-founder of “March Against Myths” who blogs on multiple sites and her own loyal following known as the “Senapath Crew.” The Preface to the book is written by veteran science communicator Kevin Folta of the University of Florida.  Several other experts contribute throughout the book as well.

This book will probably never be read by those that have bought-in to the Food Babe’s conspiratorial view of the food system. But it can serve as a useful reference for those who have the opportunity to defuse some of the specific fears they see worrying their friends and families. It is well indexed and referenced, and so it can serve as a valuable resource for anyone who plays a role of rational skeptic in the internet age.

You are welcome to comment here and/or to email me at savage.sd@gmail.com