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The Food Babe Way with Vani Hari
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The Food Babe Way: A #1 National Bestseller. Cut hidden food toxins, lose weight, and get healthy in just 21 days.
Yuri: Welcome to this special episode of The Super Nutrition Academy Health Class. Yuri Elkaim back with you. It’s been a little bit of time since my last episode, so I do want to apologize for that, but I think I’ve made up for it because today we’ve got a very special interview with none other than the Food Babe herself, Vani Hari.
She’s got a new book called The Food Babe Way, a New York Times best-seller; it’s an awesome book and I highly recommend you grab it. Before we get into the interview, before I bring her on, let me give you the official bio so you know who she is and what she’s all about. I’m just going to read this right from her Web site, over at FoodBabe.com.
It says: “Vani Hari started FoodBabe.com in April 2011 to spread information about what really is in the American food supply. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthily around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth.”
Yeah, she’s personally taken down Subway, Chick-fil-A, some pretty awesomes, as an example. “She convinced one of the biggest chains in the world—Subway—to remove a controversial ingredient after receiving 50,000 signatures in 24 hours on her petition to the chain itself. After receiving tremendous attention on her post about Chick-fil-A, she was invited by the company’s leadership to meet at its headquarters to consult on specific improvements to ingredients used by the national chain, which they later implemented.
“Seven months after Vani petitioned Kraft to remove all harmful petroleum-based artificial food dyes from mac and cheese, Kraft responded by removing the dye from all products aimed at children. Other food companies that have responded to her writings include: Panera Bread, Whole Foods, Lean Cuisine, McDonald’s, General Mills, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, and many others.”
She’s on a mission to really do some great work. She’s all about exposing the truth; she wants the consumers to really understand what they’re consuming, what you’re eating, and I think that’s really important. Without any further ado, let’s jump in to the interview and welcome Vani Hari.
I’m really excited to be here with the one and only Vani Hari, the Food Babe. Welcome.
Vani: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Yuri: Absolutely. I’m excited because you are now a New York Times best-selling author with your newest book The Food Babe Way. How does it feel?
Vani: I don’t even know how to describe it; I pinch myself daily.
Yuri: Congratulations. You definitely deserve it. You’ve been putting out amazing information on your blog for the past couple years now that has just brought so much awareness to people’s lives in respect to their nutrition and food labels and the nonsense in the food industry. It’s incredible you’re kind of singlehandedly and your army of followers have just kind of taken things down and improving everyone’s health as a result.
Vani: Thank you very much. It’s been a crazy journey. Never thought in a million years I would be, number one, a writer; number two, an author; or even having a blog like I do today. I tell you, I would’ve never thought in a million years, I would’ve been an activist, holding the food companies accountable for their actions and really getting them to change by mass awareness, as well as mobilizing an army of people out there to vote with their dollars and also go out and call companies and ask them to change.
It’s been such a wild ride. I think I’m only getting started, so I’m very excited to see where this goes.
Yuri: It’s amazing. You’re not coming from a background of nutrition. You’re not a nutritionist or dietician or doctor. Tell us about your really interesting journey, where you started, and how you got to where you are now.
Vani: Absolutely. I am not a scientist or a nutritionist, and I really don’t think you have to be in order to learn what’s in your food and how to eat. Really, that’s the basis of my new book, The Food Babe Way, which really teaches anyone how to become their own food investigator, their food nutritionist to find out exactly how they should be eating and what all the pitfalls are that the food industry puts in place to increase their bottom lines but really affect our waistline.
I had a story that’s similar to a lot of people out there who’ve decided to get healthy. I was very sick for most of my life. I had different ailments like eczema, asthma, allergies. I was on up to eight prescription drugs at one point in my life. It wasn’t until my early 20s where I decided to take back control of my health after having appendicitis and gaining a lot of weight and not feeling really great about myself that I decided this is not how I want to live. I need to figure how to be healthy, how to lose this weight, how to get my life back on track.
I never thought I was going to heal these ailments I had for most of my life when I was little, like the eczema and asthma, and being on those different prescription drugs. I thought that was just my genetics. I thought that’s just the way I was supposed to be.
To my surprise, when I started to figure out how to eat, how to put the most nutritious things in my body and eliminate the food additives and the food inventions that didn’t serve my body at all, things started to change dramatically for me. Not only did I get off all prescription drugs, but my looks changed dramatically; my hair, my skin, my face. The shape of my face changed?
Yuri: You used to have gray hair, right?
Vani: No. It’s so bizarre what starts to happen when your body starts getting nutrition. For most of my life, I was eating fast food, a lot of processed foods. I don’t think I ate anything green when I was little. I don’t remember anything really that I loved. I think I ate broccoli every now and then if it was microwaved to death kind of thing. I really didn’t eat much, and I always ate candy and a lot of things that really wreaked havoc on all of my organs and systems.
Now, what I know about sugar and artificial food dyes and all of these things that were in those candies I was eating, I just can’t believe I was functioning that way. When I look back and remember how I felt during those years, I almost felt like a zombie compared to what I feel now. Now I feel a level of energy I never thought was possible, and I feel a level of health I never thought was possible.
It actually propelled me. I believe it allowed me to succeed at doing this blog and also working full-time as a management consultant. I was a management consultant for almost 13 years before I quit my job two years ago to do this full-time, to be the Food Babe full-time and be an activist.
I had no idea that food was so important, and my parents never taught me that either. They thought of food as sustenance, and they really wanted me to fit in, so they didn’t really require me to eat the Indian food that my mom was cooking. She would cook two meals every night. She’d have gorgeous Indian food for her and my dad, and for me, we would eat whatever we wanted. If it included takeout from Burger King or McDonald’s or the Salisbury steak you put in the microwave or the mozzarella sticks you put in the Fry Daddy, that’s what my brother and I ate.
When I started to figure this out and my body started to change, my friends and family really saw this dramatic difference, not only in the way I looked, but the way I felt and my whole attitude on life. They started to ask the questions, like, “What are you doing differently? What are you eating differently?”
They also saw it too, especially my coworkers, who I traveled with. As a management consultant, you have clients all over the United States, so you’re constantly traveling with your coworkers, and you’re eating more meals with them than sometimes your own family that week. They saw that I was asking the server about MSG in the soup and I would bring my own tea with me at night and I wouldn’t really drink that much with my meals. They saw all these different things that I was doing; how I’d bring some food in a cooler so I could have it for lunch; how I would order these green drinks. They’d inquire, “What’s in there? They’re so green. They look so weird.”
In the South, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I’m from, we didn’t even have a Whole Foods up until two years ago. You can imagine living this kind of health lifestyle where you’re really eating these really super-nutritious foods; it just wasn’t a way of life down here. A lot of people, including most of my friends and family, never knew about kale and never thought you could put it in a smoothie or in a green juice.
One thing that happened that I just loved is that after I started living this way and after I started the blog, most of my friends all went out and bought juicers, and they’re still juicers to this day. I think juicing is so incredible; it’s actually one of the habits in the new book.
I started this blog because of them, really. I started it for my friends and family, to just share what I was doing on a daily basis, how I was living, how I was traveling on the road with a very demanding job and also living an organic lifestyle. I taught myself the habits and the principles and the philosophies on how to live in this overprocessed world.
It’s so funny: Before I took on this demanding job back in 2009, two years before I started the blog—I said to my friends one night at dinner, “I’m going to figure out how to travel five days a week and do this and I’m going to write a book about it one day.” Well, this book is now written, but it’s so much more than that.
I started the blog two years later, in 2011, and had my mom and a few friends following it. It wasn’t until I started to really find my passion for telling the truth and finding out what was going down and what was in my food. I just had this uncanny ability to keep asking question and ask questions that nobody has really asked before—and if they have asked, they haven’t really followed up, like I have.
One of my first investigations was actually on Chipotle. Chipotle, back then, had all of this really interesting marketing about food with integrity and that they had the best ingredients out of any fast food. When I called and asked what was in their food and wanted to look at the ingredient list, they wouldn’t give it to me.
They said, “Do you have an allergy? Is there something you can’t eat?” I was like, “No.” Actually, I do have some food allergies, but I was like, “Why do I need to have a food allergy to know what I’m eating? Can you just tell me what’s in your tortillas and chips and black beans and meat? Can you tell me what you’re putting in there, what you’re doing, what kind of oils, et cetera, you’re using?”
They wouldn’t tell me and it made me very furious, so I wrote a blog post about it. It went pretty viral. Someone started a petition on my behalf to ask Chipotle to reach their ingredients. Chipotle reached out to me shortly after and opened the conversation up. I told them, “I’m a computer scientist; I can teach you how to put a PDF of your ingredients online. We could do that tomorrow. I’ll teach you how to do that.”
That’s what I knew how to do, consult and help organizations change. I offered that to them, but they were like, “We really want to change some of our ingredients first. We really want to make some improvements, so we’re going to release them very soon. Just have our word that we’re going to do that.”
Shortly thereafter, one of the things I found out during my investigation, when I finally got a Chipotle employee to give me the ingredients after going to three different locations because the headquarters wouldn’t give it to me, I found out that they had trans fats in their tortillas, that they were using a ton of genetically engineered oils, a lot of ingredients that you wouldn’t think are food with integrity, like their tagline was stating.
I called that out and it was interesting when they finally released their ingredients in their products. They took out a lot of those ingredients that I called out, and they also posted all of the ingredients online, along with an indicator of determining which ingredients were genetically engineered. It’s something that no fast-food chain had ever done before. They sent me the link on my birthday, which was really cool. It was one of the best birthday presents ever. It was a link to the ingredients with the words ta-da on it.
That was kind of one of my first, along with another example of getting a yogurt company to finally pull marketing when they were misleading consumers about their organic yogurt. Those two were kind of the first taste of activism, like what it means to be an activist, getting a company to change for the better or getting some change for the better so consumers have more transparency or have information that will help their health. I just became really addicted to that, and I became really addicted to finding out the truth about different food companies and started blogging more about that rather than what I was eating every day and the travel and fitness and other things I started to blog about back in the day, in 2011.
My blog took a very different turn. First, it was very personal, very casual. It wasn’t this this blog full of scientific resources and all this research; it was, “Hey, guys, this is what I think, this is what I’m doing, this is what I’m eating, this is why.” Then it became this, “Oh my gosh, if I’m talking about these companies and what they’re putting in their food, I have to have backed-up sources, I have to have links, I have to have scientists who look at this data, I have to have all of these things.
My blog today is much different from it was back then. Now I have an advisory board of scientists and doctors that look at my campaigns before I release them, and they provide statements so that the press or anybody else who’s trying to critique what I’m doing, comes after me, I’m prepared. That’s kind of been the evaluation of what I’ve been doing.
Over the past year, I’ve been critiqued quite a bit in the media, and the critiques have come from a very interesting group of people calling themselves skeptics. What’s so interesting is that they aren’t the consensus, which the media likes to portray them as. They’re really not the consensus; they’re either chemists from the food industry who belong to the chemical societies in organizations or they’re the skeptics who believe in no natural therapies, they don’t believe in things like acupuncture, which has been used for thousands of years, Chinese medicine.
If you look at the writings of some of these people who speak out, it’s really interesting. They’re pro-Monsanto. What’s really interesting is, some of the outspoken university critics are Monsanto activists, and that’s fine. You can be a Monsanto activist, but there’s a clear distinction between a Monsanto activist and someone like me, who’s a consumer activist. I’m looking after the consumer; they’re looking after their technology—the GMO technology, the biotech technology—and they want to do whatever they can to make sure they can continue developing that.
What we know right now about genetically engineered ingredients is that they don’t benefit the consumer and, in some cases, can harm the consumer based on the amount of pesticides and herbicides that are being sprayed in our environment. When we look to see if GMOs really benefit the consumer, they really don’t right now, and there’s not a lot of transparency around it, and I believe we have the right to know, like 65 other countries.
Yuri: Yeah, well, that’s the thing, the transparency issue. With Chipotle, if they had clean ingredients in the first place, why would they have an issue disclosing what they were? It’s the same thing with the whole GMO thing. Why are these companies fighting all these different propositions to get GMOs labeled if they knew GMOs didn’t do any harm to humans? There’s so much science that shows there’s no benefit to it, and it’s obviously damaging human health.
That’s the problem: they’re trying to pull a fast one on consumers. They’re trying to sneak things under the rug and pretend like we’re not going to know. I think you’re doing a great job exposing that. The consumer has a right to know this stuff.
Vani: Absolutely. It’s crazy that these companies have spent over $100 million on preventing this. If they’re really concerned about feeding the world, like they say that GMOs are going to provide, think about how many millions of people they could’ve fed with those $100 million.
Also, think about the Super Bowl just went by, and think about how much money companies spend to have their logos on their food and their label and marketing to promote their food, and we’re in a situation here where genetically engineered crops where they’re spending money to do whatever they can to take their name and logo off that food. They’re doing the reverse. It’s really telling when that starts to happen. What are they trying to hide?
Yuri: I’m very, very adamant that the food industry is creating a level of genocide that’s so discreet, that is…it’s not apparent. It’s not like the Holocaust, which sucks and was a lot more apparent, but that’s essentially what I think is happening: our entire species is slowly but surely being genocided. I don’t even know if that’s a word, but they’re slowly but surely killing us with these stupid ingredients that you’re exposing. Talk quickly about the yoga-mat thing with Subway.
Vani: It’s really interesting. I can’t believe there are actually critics out there who are fighting on behalf of this chemical. It’s very shocking that there are actually chemists out there saying this is perfectly safe. Azodicarbonamide is an ingredient that I found in Subway bread. Subway was using this ingredient here in the United States but was not using it all over the globe, even in countries like China. This ingredient is banned in all of Europe because the World Health Organization says that when you handle it or are exposed to it, you can have asthmatic symptoms, you can have skin reactions.
There’s another study that shows that when it’s heated, it turns into semicarbazide—and now I’m getting into all these technical, science-y things. This is what the study says, and that can be considered a carcinogen, something that causes cancer, so that is very concerning. There’s no reason we need to have this ingredient in our bread. So much so that in countries like Singapore, if you use it anywhere, they’ll fine you $450,000 and put you in prison because it’s so toxic.
This ingredient has been used in all of our bread here in the United States. It’s been completely unregulated by the FDA, it’s considered and generally regarded a safe ingredient. Generally regarded as safe. How can something be generally regarded as safe if the World Health Organization and this other science group that’s studied this chemical see that there are issues with it and all of these other countries ban it? And it’s clear that Subway and other bread manufacturers can make bread without it.
Instead, here in the United States, because the food companies rule, they allow this chemical to be used. I started a petition last year to remove this chemical, number one, to make a point that we shouldn’t have ingredients that are banned in other countries in our food, and, number two, to show that when companies say things like, “You’re eating fresh,” like Subway does, it’s not necessarily true, and you have to look at ingredient labels.
After I launched that petition, two huge consumer-agency groups came out. They had their scientists review the data, and they said the FDA should ban this ingredient. The FDA has not done that so far, but what happened as a result is that most of the huge bread manufacturers in America started eliminating this ingredient, which was very exciting. The largest bakery in America, Bimbo Bakeries—such a great name—removed it. People like Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, all of these other restaurant chains are looking at removing it.
One that still likes to talk about its safety and the fact that it’s FDA-approved is McDonald’s. I just can’t believe McDonald’s continues to use this ingredient. I think they’re planning on removing it, though, because they did commit to removing some artificial ingredients at the end of last year.
Yuri: I hope so. It’s funny too because McDonald’s, their whole position now with their commercials and even their Web site is like, “You have a question about the quality of our foods? Just go to the Web site, and we have an answer for you.”
Vani: Well, I have a question for them, Yuri. Let’s just talk about this. I have a question for them: Why does it take only four ingredients to make their McDonald’s French fries in Europe when it takes nineteen to make them here? And the majority of the other fifteen are very controversial, like TBHQ, like dimethylpolysiloxane, which is an ingredient found in Silly Putty. It’s an ingredient that’s allowed to be preserved with formaldehyde, according to the FDA; it’s an ingredient that hasn’t been studied on humans but is allowed in our food. They consider this, again, generally regarded as safe.
This just goes to show you that the FDA is completely asleep at the wheel, and we, as Americans and as citizens, have the responsibility to hold these companies accountable, especially when they are able to make their products safer and healthier for other citizens across the globe.
Yuri: Oh, totally. I’d be very curious to see what the FDA has to say about the generally regarded-as-safe levels of cocaine. Arguably, the things in these foods are worse. It’s not like Europeans are a different species of humans than Americans and, therefore, they don’t have the ingredients that we do. It’s just incredible.
Why are food companies using thee ingredient? Is it because it’s saving them money? Is it increasing shelf life? Is it making the foods more addictive? Is it all of the above?
Vani: It all serves a function. It’s to benefit the food industry themselves. Either they don’t have to create a splashguard or something on the fryer because dimethylpolysiloxane is an antifoaming agent, so when you throw the French fries in the fryer, it doesn’t foam up. Maybe they save on equipment costs or safety measures for their employees.
Maybe there is, with azodicarbonamide, it created a uniform type of bread so that they can mass-produce quantities of bread and send it off to their different locations and bake it there without having any change in it. When you bake bread, it’s always different each time when you bake it from scratch; there are little holes and pockets and it’s not this uniform thing. They’re trying to create, basically, the most perfect processed food that we get accustomed to and that we sometimes want. Actually, I think the consumer wants more real food rather than processed food; they want things to taste real.
A lot of times, these chemicals and additives and things obviously improve the bottom line of the food industry but are also used because real ingredients are more expensive. It’s cheaper for them to use fake, processed chemicals, a lot of them made from petroleum and other ingredients out there that shouldn’t be in our bodies, that make food conduct a certain type of feel or taste or smell. Then we end up consuming it, thinking it’s real food.
Yuri: It’s crazy. I was doing some work with a juice bar in Toronto recently—and we’re both huge fans of juicing, which is awesome. I was shocked at the margins these juice bars are working with. It’s like nothing. They make no profit or very little. And they’re using organic, fresh ingredients; that’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum to what these food companies are doing, where they’re just like, “Let’s try to make as much money as possible and compromise everyone’s health in the process,” which is just insane.
Vani: Yeah, it really is.
Yuri: Vani, there’s so much stuff we can talk about. There are so many amazing stories and resources on your blog. For all of our listeners, you can check it out at FoodBabe.com. Follow what Vani’s up you. You’re doing some amazing things. With the release of your new book, The Food Babe Way, I’d strongly recommend you guys get a copy of this; you can get it on Amazon, pretty much anywhere they sell books, your local bookstore.
What I found interesting is that you were doing book signings at Costco. It’s weird because I remember I was about to give a talk at Kraft several years ago, and then they realized the nature of my talk was actually going to be telling their employees not to eat their own foods, and then they said, “Okay, we can’t do this.” That must’ve been an interesting little séance at Costco. They obviously have some decent foods, but were they pretty cool with you doing a book signing about this very topic in a massive food distributor like Costco?
Vani: They’ve been very welcoming to this message, and they see what their members want, because it’s a membership warehouse, and their members want more access to organic foods. Having me there was a really huge step in the right direction. I can tell you, I got a little bit of…there have been some interesting conversations happening in the background bout things that went on at these different signings, but I’ll try to keep those secret.
I tell you, it has not been easy trying to break through to the mainstream conventional places like Costco, but they are listening and they are having me there, which is really incredible. And they’re also selling tons of book, and in true Costco style, it’s amazing meeting the different members out there and the people who support FoodBabe.com buy multiple copies and give them out to their friends and family.
I really do believe this book is the book that will really open people’s eyes about what’s in your food and really give you the habits and tactics and tools on what to do in those circumstances where you’re traveling or you’re out at a specific restaurant, whether it’s a Thai restaurant, Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, what to do to avoid the most toxins in your food.
And, also, if you’re on specific diets like Paleo or vegan or vegetarian, the different pitfalls the food industry is doing that you need to be aware of and the different things they’re doing to try to break in to those different segments. What you need to know to protect yourself if you are following one of those different diets.
Really, this book is for everyone who eats. It’s not for anyone who’s just plant-based or just eats meat or just eats a certain thing. There’s no dogmatic diet principle in this book; it’s really about learning the habits that allow you to live in this over-processed world.
Yuri: Yeah, it’s completely agnostic. If you have a mouth and a digestive system, you should definitely have this book. The only other book I can think of that might be similar to this is one I read years ago called Food Politics, by Marion Nestle, but that’s it. You’ve done an amazing job with this book. People are going to be alarmed and inspired and angered to some degree when they go through your book. It’s in everybody’s right to be nutritionally literate because if we’re not, then we’re ticking time bombs.
Vani, I want to thank you so much for taking the time with us in this interview, for writing your book, getting it out to hundreds of thousands and millions of people in the coming future, and I know it’s going to do a lot of good for this world, so thank you for all the amazing work you do.
Vani: Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Yuri: Absolutely. And everyone who’s listening, be sure to pick up a copy of The Food Babe Way. You can get it on Amazon or pretty much any other bookstore that sells books, as well as Costco. I’ll talk to you guys soon.
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