I have to admit, I really don’t care much about the GMO vs. anti-GMO debate. The way I look it is both sides have valid points on some levels and both sides often ignore facts when it doesn’t suit their personal feelings on this issue. When it comes right down to it, I’ve known people who lived healthy lifestyles who died far too young and people who practically lived off bacon and whiskey who lived into their 80’s.
But what I do have a problem with are people like Dr. Oz and the “Food Babe” who often lie and mislead Americans on health advice. A few months ago John Oliver hammered Dr. Oz for pushing blatantly false health advice on his show, using his medical background as validation for that advice, despite knowing that what he was saying on his show was false.
If you want to give real advice to people that’s based on facts to help them live a healthier life, that’s great. If you’re trying to fear-monger or push supplements or certain foods because you’re making money by doing so, then we have a huge problem.
Which is where “Food Babe” (aka Vani Hari) comes in. While I will admit I’m not a huge follower of her many exploits, what I have seen has been somewhat alarming. Then when I learned that she studied computer science, not nutrition or anything medically related, I really began to wonder what backing this woman is using to support her claims that she’s qualified to be giving medical advice with no medical background. Not that someone must have a degree to obtain knowledge about nutrition, but I do think it’s pretty important to have some kind of scientific background when talking about chemicals that may or may not be in our food. There’s a huge difference between reading up on something, and having the expert knowledge to really know what it is and how it interacts with the human body.
And that’s what’s been bothering many scientists about a lot of the advice the “Food Babe” has been giving out that they’ve found has either been grossly misleading or just flat-out wrong.
Take for instance a recent push she had to “warn people about what’s in beer” by telling her followers that a chemical found in antifreeze, propylene glycol, is used to make beer. Except, she cited the wrong chemical. As cancer surgeon David Gorski wrote, the ingredient used in beer is actually called propylene glycol alginate – which is made from kelp.
“It is not the same chemical as propylene glycol, not even close. It is not antifreeze,” he wrote.
And as her influence grows, despite the fact she’s not qualified to give the kind of health, chemical or medical advice she’s giving, it has had an impact on businesses. As Gorski wrote, “companies live and die by public perception. It’s far easier to give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public.”
And he’s absolutely right. Heck, we see this in politics all the time. Just take a look at “Obamacare.” It was much easier for Republicans to just throw out lie after lie to mislead the public than it has been to try to properly educate Americans about what the law actually is. Which is why you see polls where the vast majority of Americans support almost everything that’s in the law – until you call it “Obamacare.”
A professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, Kevin Folta, said that Hari’s inability to properly understand peer-reviewed scientific journals has “created more confusion about food, more confusion about the role of chemicals and additives” due to her lack of background in the field of chemical science.
Folta has also accused her of being “afraid of science and intellectual engagement.” Which is a fairly alarming claim, because if someone such as the “Food Babe” is so certain that the advice she’s giving is medically sound, then why would she avoid public debates with actual scientists over what she claims is factual information? That alone makes me doubt her credibility.
Even when she was asked to be interviewed for this NPR article she declined via her publicist, stating that she wouldn’t be doing interviews until her book came out in February. A supposed “advocate for healthy living” that won’t address an article calling into question her “expert advice” on these issues – because she will only do interviews when it’s time for her to get publicity upon the release of her new book. That’s extremely shady.
To me that sounds like someone who doesn’t want to risk being made to look like a fool publicly by actual scientists ahead of a new book launch.
And while I’m sure this article will have little to no impact on anyone who thinks she’s someone credible to listen to about such things, my advice is simple: Ask a real doctor or nutritionist. How we deal with our health should be based upon the expert advice of medical professionals instead of “gurus” who are profiting heavily from what they’re selling.
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