A Little Bit Western


Battle of the Babes

Jun 2, 2015

These days, it seems like consumers are really taking an interest in what they are consuming and looking for more information on their food. I’m a consumer, I’m a mom, and I’m also a rancher (i.e. person who produces food) and I think it is fantastic that people are interested in learning more about the food they feed their families. The source of this information, however, is worth investigating.

A woman who calls herself the Food Babe (her real name is Vani Hari), is a former computer programmer-turned-self-proclaimed-internet-food-authority with a legion of followers who call themselves her Army. Ms. Hari widely markets her concerns about eating chemicals and the use of ingredients she can’t pronounce. I usually cook with ingredients like “potatoes” and “beef” so at first glance, her claims seem fairly innocuous. After further reading though, things kind of go off the rails for me and I realize that there isn’t much I can or should eat, according to the Food Babe, because it’s full of toxic and poisonous chemicals. Add in Ms. Hari’s feelings about preventing communicable diseases and her vapid post about how airplane cabin air isn’t even straight oxygen (er, no, the air we breathe on Earth contains about 78% nitrogen) and it becomes clear that we disagree a lot more than we agree.

Of course, I don’t think we should randomly prepare toxins for our families to eat. Yet, it’s worth pointing out that we are surrounded by chemicals all day long and it’s important for consumers to understand that. My favourite chemical, and likely yours too, is good old dihydrogen monoxide, known by its friendlier name as water. Acetic acid, another one, can be a terribly caustic lab ingredient. My favourite way to use it in my daily life is by dousing my French fries in it. I also use it when I clean my floor (on a biannual basis, but that’s another story). It’s vinegar. The poison depends on the dosage, and the corresponding fear should depend on the context. The Food Babe, with her pretty hair and make-up, is not always up front about that.

Several critics have started to speak out against the Food Babe and her methods, including Yvette d’Entremont, who refers to herself as the SciBabe. She has dedicated her work to debunking myths purported by the Food Babe and, well, anyone who makes strange claims with no scientific backing. With the sheer volume of bad information out there, SciBabe will have job security for some time. And if that doesn’t work out, she can always fall back on her former career as an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology.

Preparing food to eat is not easy. You have to buy ingredients, set time aside to cook, factor in people’s preferences and possible dietary restrictions, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes I nail it and my family is well-fed and happy. In years when I grow a garden, I can proudly cook tasty meals for my family that are sourced entirely from our farm. Particularly when it comes to beef, I can tell my consumers more than they would ever want to know about the steak on their plate, including the animal’s birth date, its dam’s grandpappy, and whether or not it liked long walks in the pasture.

People should absolutely take an interest in preparing and eating nutritious and safe food for their families, and I do too. I also know that I get tired at the end of the day, and sometimes I don’t care what makes macaroni and cheese that neon yellow colour, I’m just glad that I can get it on the table in nine minutes. Sometimes the “5-second rule” that relates to food falling on my floor extends into the “35-second rule” and when I can’t locally source an heirloom cucumber in Saskatchewan in January in -40 degree Celsius weather, I don’t stress.

Sometimes food is complicated and sometimes it’s not, but at some point, consumers need to make peace with it. After all, we should eat three square, nourishing meals daily, and while we’re at it, we better wash it down with the recommended eight glasses of dihydrogen monoxide.

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