Named as one of the most influential people on the internet by Time Magazine, Vani Hari started FoodBabe.com in April 2011 to spread information about what is really 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 healthfully 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.
Impassioned by knowing how food affects health, Vani loves sharing her message on the blogosphere to 3 million unique readers across the globe. Vani convinced the biggest fast food chain in the world, Subway, to remove a controversial ingredient after receiving 50,000 signatures in 24 hours on her petition to the chain. After receiving tremendous attention on her posts 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. 7 months after Vani petitioned Kraft to remove harmful petroleum-based artificial food dyes from Mac & Cheese, Kraft responded by removing the dye from all products aimed at children.
Other major food companies that have responded to her writings include Panera Bread, Whole Foods, Lean Cuisine, McDonalds, General Mills, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, Yoforia, and Moe’s South West Grill.
Vani’s activism brought national attention at the Democratic National Convention when she used her status as an elected delegate to protest in front of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on the issue of GMO labeling. Vani has been profiled in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, The Doctors Show, NBC News, Fox News and is a regular cooking contributor on NBC’s Charlotte Today and food expert on CNN.
But that is not the whole story…..
The Painful ‘Birth’ of a Food Activist
[Published on Mercola] Perhaps she was destined for the role of the activist, as her name actually means “voice” in Hindi. Indeed, a nationally ranked debater during her school years, Vani does not shy away from voicing her beliefs and sharing her ideals, and there’s little doubt the world is becoming better for it.
“Shortly after college, realizing that debate wasn’t really going to get me a job, I ended up switching my major to computer science and did what everybody else did. I entered the rat race,” she says.
“I got picked up by one of the top consulting firms in the country… managing large-scale projects, mergers, acquisitions, and integration work. I was travelling Sunday through Thursday, and quickly, at the age of 22 to 23 years old, I became really sick…
It was that life-changing moment that I realized, ‘Wait a minute, I gained 25 to 30 pounds within a three-month period, and then I had appendicitis?’ There’s something seriously wrong with what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been eating. What’s in the food, and what caused my body to be so out of whack?
Everyone says appendicitis is this random occurrence… But I don’t think it’s random, because it’s definitely related to your digestive system. And I was overloading my digestive system with tons of toxins.”
So, when she was 22, Vani made the decision to make her health her number one priority, vowing not to let work get in the way. By doing her own homework, she quickly realized that, first of all, not all calories are created equal—a concept clearly described by Dr. Robert Lustig, who states that fructose is “isocaloric but not isometabolic.”
This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. This is largely because different nutrients provoke different hormonal responses, and those hormonal responses determine, among other things, how much fat you accumulate.
She also realized that not only are the vast majority of American food products loaded with toxic ingredients, from pesticides like glyphosate to artificial additives banned in many other countries, the food she was eating also fell short in terms of healthful nutrients—especially healthy fats like saturated fat.
“I’d been duped by the food industry,” she says. “I thought that eating a six-gram fat or less; 250-calorie or less Subway sandwich was healthy for me. I didn’t realize that the nine-grain bread had over 50 ingredients, with one ingredient that’s banned in Singapore. If you get caught using it, you get fined 450,000 dollars. I didn’t know that information. I ate those things because of the calories.
I thought, ‘Oh, look at all these vegetables inside.’ But I didn’t realize that the jalapenos have been dipped in petroleum-based dyes: Yellow #5 and Yellow #6. I didn’t realize that all of these buildups of chemicals in my body were causing these issues. And it wasn’t just appendicitis. I had asthma and allergies growing up. I was on three or four asthma medications… I had to see the doctor on a very frequent basis, even put on steroids to control my asthma. Now I have zero asthma. I’m on zero medications right now.”
The Power of One
Her corporate work, which involved loads of travel, forced her to perfect the art of eating organically while on the road—a feat that can be quite challenging. Her solution was to travel with a cooler stocked with her own food, and looking for organic food sources in the various cities she traveled to regularly. Spurred on by friends and coworkers who wanted to learn more, she started blogging about her discoveries in 2011. The following story is a potent example of just how influential a blogger can be:
“One day, I saw this frozen yogurt company at the mall, and their sign said, ‘Organic tastes better.’ I thought, ‘Oh, organic frozen yogurt at the mall. This is fabulous!’ I went in and asked for the ingredients, and they couldn’t give them to me. I went through my same investigative research that I developed in high school and tried to find out exactly what was in the ingredients.
I found out that they were using a little bit of organic milk, but then they were adding a slew of other chemicals, including trans fat and Blue #1 and Blue #2 to color my favorite flavor that I thought was organic… I started writing about that. It went viral. This was a local so-called organic yogurt company [with] about 30 or 40 stores. The CEO wrote me a letter, and they took down the signs. I said right then, ‘Wait a minute, hold on. I have this power as a blogger. I have this power as an activist to change the food system. If I can get a yogurt company to take down a sign, what else can I do?’”
This was the beginning of a series called “Food Babe Investigates,” where she digs deeply into the products sold by major food companies, such as Starbucks, Subway, and Chipotle. The latter resulted in another “one-woman victory” for Vani. Chipotle did not have a list of ingredients on their menus or website, and the corporate headquarters refused to supply her with one when she contacted them directly2.
“I said, ‘But your label says ‘Food with Integrity.’ How am I going to know that it’s food with integrity if I can’t know the ingredients and I can’t read them for myself?’” she says.
Shortly after her article appeared on her blog, Chipotle called her. The chain recently made the decision to not only release the lists of ingredients, but also started labeling genetically engineered (GE) ingredients for full transparency. They’ve also swapped out some of the GE ingredients, such as soybean oil, replacing it with rice bran oil.
Her list of accomplishments have far exceeded even her own expectations and we can anticipate more great things to come from Vani Hari aka Food Babe!