WCA Life Science

Asking the Food Babe for evidence

In late January, a group of US students pursuing post-graduate degrees in food science published an open letter to Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe, the much-hyped Internet activist who has amassed a huge following by attacking what she perceives as threats to people’s health from the foods they eat.

The website, Sense About Science USA, that has as its mission: ‘Asking for evidence and standing up for science’, interviewed the group, asking the students—all but one pursuing PhDs in food science—to talk about why wrote their letter, what they thought about Hari’s response, and for their thoughts on the way food is covered in the media. They responded jointly.

SAS USA: What was the motivation and the process behind your letter to Hari?

It is rather frustrating for us, as students of food science, to see misinformation about food get so much attention. We were motivated to reach out to Ms Hari because the public deserves balanced, non-sensationalized information on the science of food. It became impossible for us to sit and watch her attack our profession, especially since it is clear she does not really know what it is all about.

When writing the letter, we did not want to belittle Hari because her work echoes concerns about food that consumers legitimately have. We want to try and help change the tone of the food dialogue from one that encourages fear to one that strives for understanding.

What struck you about her response?

We are very pleased that Ms Hari read our letter and chose to respond. It is unfortunate that she did not allow for comments on her response, as this contradicts the open dialogue we are trying to start. While her response lacked a scientific foundation, it has opened the doors for others to join the conversation.

Your letter could be read as a criticism of the news media for not doing a great job of holding up Hari’s claims to scrutiny, or for not delving deeply enough into the science of food science. Thoughts?

Our letter was definitely not intended as a criticism of the news media. We simply wanted to advocate for good scientific communication. It is important that new discoveries are made public, but they need to be viewed as a snapshot in time, meaning we need to look at each study in the context of the greater body of research that is already in existence. One study is not the be all, end all.

Your letter could also read as a recognition that food science has done a woeful job of explaining itself to the public. Thoughts?

In short, yes. The landscape of the food dialogue is incredibly complex because there are so many different people contributing to it: chefs, foodies, health enthusiasts, and the like. Unfortunately, the number of scientists joining in the conversation has been proportionally low, and it is time for that to change.

Our food system is not static; it changes constantly as scientific knowledge is advanced. Additionally, the public’s interest in food will forever follow trends making it hard for anyone to see the bigger picture. These aspects of food present a unique challenge to scientific communication. Joining in the conversation is likely unappealing to many researchers for this reason, but that truly is a problem. The public is asking valid questions, yet they are mostly receiving answers from individuals who disregard the scientific process…..

Sense About Science: Read the full article

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