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Hari forces food companies to take out harmful ingredients from products.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: Over the past four years, Vani Hari and husband Finley Clarke both quit lucrative, six-figure consulting positions to make their living from Foodbabe.com, which Hari founded in 2011 as a food blog to share her healthy lifestyle with family and friends.
It has since become a vehicle for challenging major food companies that use any ingredients she deems harmful to the public health, garnering 3 million readers a month and roughly doubling the traffic on their site over the past year, per self-reported figures.
They did so by publicly playing the David to many Goliaths among the ‘Big Food’ corporations, including Starbucks (accusations of “hazardous chemicals” in pumpkin spice lattes), Chick-fil-A (which she deemed “Chemical-Fil-A”), Whole Foods (for genetically modified and hidden ingredients) and Subway, according to the New York Times.
The Times further disclosed that in order to protest the sandwich chain’s use of azodicarbonamide in its bread, 34-year-old Hari posted a video of herself chewing another item in which the chemical is found: a yoga mat.
In less than 24 hours, Hari’s petition to the company to remove the plastic-based dough conditioner had amassed 50,000 signatures. The next day, Subway, which Hari said had not replied to any previous correspondence, emailed her to say it was already in the process of removing the FDA-approved chemical.
She has also gotten Chipotle to announce they would not use genetically modified crops, and takes credit for Kraft’s pledge to halt the inclusion of yellow dyes in mac-and-cheese, according to her website.
While Time Magazine has named her one of its “30 Most Influential People on the Internet,” Hari has not gone about her culinary crusade without attracting her share of controversy. A vocal group of research scientists argue she’s more of a detriment to the field of health than a boon.
“Critics deride her as a dilettante who mucks the science (sometimes purposefully), a ‘fearmongerer’ who preys upon the ignorance of a science-illiterate public for her own profit,” wrote the New York Post.
Her most vehement critic, Yale neurologist Steve Novella, called her “the Jenny McCarthy of food activism.”
Regardless of whether or not you find the Food Babe palatable, there’s no denying that Hari has had a palpable impact on what we eat.
“If she gets the science a little bit wrong, ultimately the bigger point is that this stuff shouldn’t be in our food,” asserted Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow — a non-profit dedicated to implementing social and political programs.
Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU, disagrees. She told the Post that Hari “gives the movement a bad name” and that “getting the science right is extremely important.”
“She’s making scientific judgments of these chemicals that may or may not be valid or may or may not be valid or may or may not be meaningful,” Nestle stated. “I’d love to see someone like her work on issues like protecting the quality of school lunches, keeping agriculture in line with our health policies, how to figure out how to stop companies from marketing junk foods to kids. Issues like those.”
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Hari graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2001 with a degree in computer science, and subsequently worked as a management consultant for Accenture, a technology services and outsourcing company, according to the Charlotte Observer.
After switching gears and achieving national notoriety as the Food Babe, Hari began to focus all of her energy into persona, even releasing her first book, “The Food Babe Way,” earlier this year.
The Seattle Times revealed Hari stays on top of her empire from an Apple MacBook Air on a small metal desk in the living room of her high-rise condo in Charlotte’s banking district, while her husband manages the website in a spare bedroom just a few feet away.
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