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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

The Food Babe: Vani Hari Gets the Facts Out of Food Industry Giants

Vani Hari Food Babe Headshotby Lisa Moore
As the author of FoodBabe.com, a blog that investigates methods and ingredients used by the American food industry, Charlotte native Vani Hari has taken on some of the best-known names in the food industry. Armed with her Food Babe Army that signs petitions, calls company headquarters and share her investigations with the masses, she has encouraged companies like Kraft, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Subway and Chipotle to change or reconsider harmful ingredients in their products. A frequent guest on television shows like CNN and Dr. Oz, Hari’s latest successful target was the beer industry in which she pressured Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors to list their full ingredients. Hari contends that some beers contain GMOs, corn syrup, carcinogenic caramel coloring and a gelatin-like substance produced from the swim bladder of a fish.

In just three years Hari has made the food industry come to attention, proving what a difference one voice can make. Natural Awakenings interviewed her to learn how her journey from illness due to a standard American diet to a powerful food investigator came to be.

In just a few years you have taken on some corporate food giants like Chick-fil-A, Subway and Chipotle and encouraged them to make big changes in their labeling and ingredients. When did you realize you had the power to make such massive and meaningful changes?

My name, Vani, means “voice.” As a nationally ranked member of my high school debate team, I learned how to investigate both sides of an argument and speak up on what I believed. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I started using my voice to spread the information I had uncovered about the ingredients in our food. These investigations eventually led me to call on some of the biggest food manufactures in the world to change.

I began my food journey, like most people, by following the standard American diet. As a successful management consultant, I was either in the office eating whatever take-out was brought in, or I was on the road eating every meal out. Although this lifestyle allowed me to fit in with my peers and work crazy hours, it also took a huge toll on my body and I became very ill. Over the holiday season nearly ten years ago, I found myself in a hospital bed. I was sick, overweight and I was ready to change! I made a personal promise that from that point on, I was going to make myself my number one priority.

FoodBabe.com was born from years of teaching myself how to live a healthy lifestyle and from investigating the crazy chemicals put into our food system. As I learned more about the habits needed for a healthy lifestyle and what dangerous ingredients to avoid, my friends and family begged me to start a blog in order to share everything I had uncovered. Over the past three years, FoodBabe.com has grown to have a readership of over four million inspired individuals who are seeking to lead heather lives and rid our food system of deadly ingredients. It is through the help of the entire Food Babe Army that the investigations and petitions on FoodBabe.com have been able to force some of the largest food corporations to change.

As a food activist, are there any other food establishments or companies you will be focusing on in the future to clean up their act?

The food industry fills the majority of processed foods with potentially harmful chemicals that are not only worthless in providing nutritional value but additionally destroy your health, cause you to eat more, gain weight and feel tired. As a food activist, I am working to teach people how to eat real food and to help improve the food that is offered outside the home.

Earlier this year I launched a petition to ask Subway to remove a chemical also found in yoga mats and rubber shoe soles (azodicarbonamide) from their bread. They responded back and have since removed the chemical. While this was a great win, it was a small victory in the larger scope of Subway’s ingredient choices. Subway has several questionable ingredients in their bread. Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. Subway is not alone in its over use of dangerous chemicals and preservatives. Luckily, as FoodBabe.com grows, so does our ability to affect change quickly. Our voices are being heard and we will continue to spread the truth. So yes, there are plenty of other food establishments I will be focusing on in the future, plenty. We know that many unfit foods contain harmful substances like food dyes, antibiotics, MSG, trans fat and high fructose corn syrup. What are some of the most shocking things people may not realize is in their food?

Luckily for the food industry and unluckily for us, food manufacturers are not required to disclose every ingredient that is in the food they make. Food manufacturers are allowed to hide the truth behind catchy phrases such as “natural flavors.” Food companies can use the term “natural flavors” on their ingredient lists to describe anything they consider natural that they do not want to explicitly declare. In many cases “natural flavors” may refer to the presence of some pretty shocking and nasty ingredients such as castoreum. Castoreum comes from the secretions of a beaver’s anal gland. Companies can get away with hiding the ingredient because it is a natural flavor. Manufacturers don’t want you to know what they are actually using so beware of any product containing “natural flavors.”

What are some supposed “health foods” that may not be as good for us as we think and how do consumers get tricked into thinking they are healthy?

Tricky labeling is everywhere is the grocery store. The phrase “all natural” can be used on mostly anything - including products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, so I encourage people to read labels. When it comes to ingredients in a food, a general rule of thumb to follow is - if you don’t recognize it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

You have stated that over 90% of processed foods in the US contain genetically engineered corn and soy prevalent in everything from baby food to condiments. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called on physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid genetically modified foods as they may cause many adverse health issues. Unlike many other countries, the US does not require any type of regulation or labeling on GMOs. What will it take to change this?

I encourage anyone looking to change the quality of the food around them to vote with their dollars. Every time you purchase a product you are sending a message to the manufacturer that says “I support what you are doing.” When we all vote with our dollars we not only help strengthen the companies that are doing the right thing by supplying healthy, sustainably grown and non-GMO food but we also send a clear message of disapproval to those companies who are putting harmful products and genetically modified crops into the marketplace.

One of the fastest ways to get a company to change is to affect their sales and profit. Companies feel the impact of our opinions when we stop financially supporting their products. When we vote with our dollars, we actively shape the marketplace around us by sending a clear message of what we want. Food companies have no choice but to fill the demand we create with our purchases if they wish to continue doing business. Buying organic foods whenever possible is a great way to ensure that you are not supporting the companies who genetically modify our food.

We are grateful that you are working hard to make some of nation’s biggest food corporations accountable for the integrity of their products. What can the average consumer do to help ensure the food they buy is clean and safe?

The best way to ensure that you are eating clean is to buy organic whenever possible. When you buy organic, you are ensuring that the foods you are eating have not been coated in harmful synthetic pesticides before being harvested and that the food has not be genetically modified from it natural state. I understand it can be pricey to buy organic. Trust me though, it will be worth it in the long run. Eating organic, fresh produce as often as possible will have you feeling energetic, vibrant and healthy. If you are still concerned about the initial costs of choosing organic, you can check out FoodBabe.com where I have over 75 tips on buying organic on a budget as well as information on the top 12 foods that are most important to purchase organic.

For more information, visit FoodBabe.com.

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