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Which is Worse: Food Babe or Food Poisoning?

One makes you want to barf, and the other makes you barf while sitting on the toilet.

While the latter does indeed sound worse, especially with the whole “poop through the eye of a needle” part, there is more to this comparison requiring examination to determine what truly does have a more negative impact on modern society: the Food Babe, or food poisoning?

 

Food Poisoning

Worst. Night. Ever.

I felt like I might die, but my mom made me realize I wouldn’t. I was 18 and stark naked on the toilet while barfing into a plastic garbage can. It was the middle of the night and my retching / praying for death awoke her, and she came into the bathroom to see if I was okay.

“GET OUT!” I screamed at her in between heaves.

And then I realized that if I could muster the energy to be indignant over her seeing me in such a wretched state of barfing up my toenails that I would probably live through the night.

And live I did. Within another 48 hours it was like it had never happened, except for the variety of sore muscles from the constant dry heaves. Did you know that there are muscles in your body that only seem to get activated by blowing your groceries? Regardless, it’s not something I’m planning on integrating into my training regimen.

Alas, some people don’t live when they get food poisoning. According to the CDC a whopping 1 in 6 Americans gets sick as a result of foodborne illnesses each year, 128,000 of these require hospitalization, and 3,000 of them die.

Now this requires stretching the limits of the term “food poisoning” to “foodborne illness,” but it’s still shocking to see such numbers. My dad taught me to be uptight about food prep, treating raw chicken like arsenic and adopting the mantra of “If in doubt, throw it out.”

Food poisoning is way bad, and probably even worse in less developed nations. But the question remains, is it worse than …

 

Food Babe

So. Much. Derp.

“There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” – Vani Hari A.K.A. Food Babe

Dihydrogen monoxide will kill your ass dead. Swim too far from shore, and you’ll drown in that stuff. Even drink too much and you’ll wind up on the wrong side of the dirt. But if you don’t drink enough, you’re also a goner. Yes, we’re talking about water. So if we all follow her advice, everyone on Earth will be dead in a few days.

Everything is made from chemicals, but Food Babe wants to spread fear of “toxins” and lead her legions towards an eating disorder. She’s anti-GMO, anti-chemical, anti-flu shot, and pro-orthorexia. And that’s just barely scratching the surface.

Food Babe has almost a million followers on Facebook, a big book deal, myriad magazine and television appearances (including on Dr. Oz), and there are rumors of her getting her own TV show. She’s a media juggernaut with no sign of slowing down, despite much vociferous criticism from the science-based community. Like it or not, she is an influencer, being recently deemed #5 on Greatist’s top 100 health and fitness influencer list.

Food Babe is spreading fear, and people are listening. But what is the impact?

Food Fear Mongering
Last fall I spoke with a couple of eating disorder doctors (for this NPR article) who both explained that eating disorders have seen a shocking increase in recent decades due to a rise in obesity rates coupled with an explosion of fad diets. What used to be primarily a condition that afflicted young, Caucasian women has spread across genders, ages, race and socio-economic status. Many begin with an honest desire to lose weight, be healthier, get in shape etc., but get sucked down a rabbit hole of misinformation and fear that creates an obsession of eating only the “right” foods and avoiding the “wrong” ones. Both of these doctors agreed that, although not in the DSM-5, “orthorexia” is a legitimate lay term to describe a very real condition: an obsession with “clean” eating.

Food Babe has become the poster child for orthorexia, and she’s making a lot of money from it.

And the docs I spoke with asserted that orthorexia can definitely be a rest stop on the journey to full-blown pathology: development of a diagnosable eating disorder. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • Up to 24 million people in the U.S. have a diagnosable eating disorder (almost 8% of the population), but only 1 in 10 seek help for it.
  • Compared against all other forms of mental illness, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.
  • The third most common chronic illness afflicting adolescents is anorexia.
  • Binge and purge is used for weight management in a whopping 25% of college-age women.
  • For young women, anorexia nervosa has a mortality rate that is twelve times higher than the death rate from all other causes.
  • Half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys are known to engage in unhealthy weight loss behaviors.

Read about how the Food Babe’s new book contains many passages that are highly similar to messages found on a pro-anorexia site.

Vaccine Fear Mongering
Food Babe wrote a post entitled “Should I get a flu shot?” and it includes statements like “What’s exactly in the Flu Shot? To sum it up – A bunch of toxic chemicals and additives that lead to several types of Cancers and Alzheimer [sic] disease over time.”

So, yeah, her answer to the question posed in the title is a resounding “No,” and that type of anti-science fear mongering kills people. This is the exact reason why I finally got fed up with Bill Maher. It kills people because, as I showed in this piece, 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu in the U.S. each year, and on average tens of thousands of Americans die from the illness annually. The shot is completely safe and averages a 65% effectiveness rate, and spreading fear lowers vaccination rates, which increases infection rates, which is a boon for coffin and embalming fluid industries.

GMO Fear Mongering
Genetically modified organisms are a prime target for Food Babe, as the photo of this article makes clear. She’s at the forefront of creating fear of a safe, effective and environmentally stable method of feeding the world. Her style of fear mongering about GMOs has had dire consequences, such as:

  • In 2002 during a famine in Zambia, President Levy Mwanawasa forbade importing of food aid from the United States because a sizeable portion of the corn and soya was genetically modified. Referring to it as “poison,” it’s obvious Mwanawasa was swayed by the worldwide anti-GMO campaign that Food Babe has hitched her wagon to, and thousands of his people starved as a direct result.
  • Anti-GMO crusaders such as Green Peace have played a significant role in delaying the development of what is referred to as “Golden Rice.” Golden Rice is a genetically modified organism that incorporates high levels of beta-carotene, which compensates for low levels of vitamin A in many poorer populations. Vitamin A deficiency kills hundreds of thousands of children each year because of compromised immune systems, and leads to blindness in many more.

Food Babe wants GMOs to be labeled, but there are problems with doing so. It implies that there are health consequences associated with their consumption, where none has ever been shown. Acquiescing to the desire for labeling by a minority would result in a price spike that would be borne by all consumers. Besides, in countries where labeling was implemented it didn’t result in greater consumer choice, but instead caused retailers to stop carrying GMO containing products because of a perceived consumer aversion to them (much like how they loaded their shelves with gluten free products because it was a boon for sales based on equally bad information).

Besides, those who have their knickers in a twist over GMOs already have their choice: Anything with a USDA Organic label means that it does not contain GMOs. So for people who are all bent out of shape over it, rather than send science backwards with ill-informed fear mongering, they can just throw their money at an overpriced product to assuage their concerns and let the rest of us move into the future unhindered.

 

Discussion

There is an interesting connection between these two subjects in that Food Babe is a fan of raw milk, and the CDC says that food poisoning due to raw milk ingestion is on the rise. Beyond that, which really has a more negative impact on society? Which is worse: Food Babe or food poisoning?

Just like there is no one form of food poisoning, there is no one person spreading fear about food, vaccines and GMOs in the United States. Food Babe is a leader of an army of the misinformed (she actually calls them the “Food Babe Army”); she’s a high profile member of an anti-science club that seems bound and determined to make people unhealthy and even dead, although they certainly don’t see it that way. They actually think they’re helping.

Looking at these numbers, when you consider Food Babe as a metaphor for anti-science hype and fear and look at the negative impact such thinking has on society as a whole; it becomes clear that she is indeed worse than food poisoning. Food Babe style thinking creates a lot more death and destruction than food poisoning does.

No matter how much poop and puke the latter involves.

 

Coming up next time on Which is Worse: Paleo or Palin?

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com.

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