El Tiempo Interview Translated Spanish to English:
Talking with Food Babe, the terror of food manufactures
Vani Hari’s blog, followed by millions of people, has created a buzz in the food industry.
Ten years ago, while sitting in a hospital bed, Vani Hari made a decision that changed her life and the lives of many more.
While embarked on a fast paced career to rapidly climb the steps of the American dream she had neglected her body to the point of collapse. Tired, overweight and taking 8 different medications for her multiple ailments she promised to turn her health into her number one priority.
The first thing she did was abandon her junk food diet. But more than that, she decided to investigate the ingredients in those foods and their effects on the consumers.
Terrified by her findings, she decided to share them on a blog that she named Food Babe which started in 2011.
In three years the site has become a global movement with more than 4 million readers and has forced members of the powerful food and beverage industry like Kraft, Subway and Starbucks to remove chemical additives and other health damaging ingredients from their products.
In a few words, what is Food Babe?
FoodBabe.com is the place you go to investigate what’s in your food. We fight for transparency, better ingredients and teach people how to eat real, organic, non-GMO whole foods.
Before dedicating yourself entirely to FoodBabe, you had a successful career. What caused you to make this change of careers?
As soon as I realized companies were responding to my writings, I knew I had to quit my corporate job. The passion for sharing what I learned took over my life and I knew I could make an even bigger impact on the food industry if I devoted my full-time energy.
Where was your passion for eating and living a healthy life born? Was it something you were taught growing up?
I was not health conscious growing up. I began my food journey, like most people, by following the standard American diet. Both of my parents are from India and part of integrating my brother and I into American culture was feeding us fast food. I grew up eating what everyone else around me was eating. Later in life as a successful management
That is when I decided to change. I made a personal promise that from that point on, I was going to make myself my number one priority. FoodBabe.com was born from years of teaching myself how to live a healthy lifestyle and from investigating the questionable chemicals put into our food system. As I learned more about the habits needed for a healthy lifestyle and what dangerous ingredients to avoid, my friends and family begged me to start a blog in order to share everything I had uncovered.
One thing is being health conscious and wanting to share information and another is becoming a global movement with hundreds of thousands of followers. How did that happen?
One thing I have learned from running FoodBabe.com is that people are hungry for this information. Over the past three years, FoodBabe.com has grown to have a readership of over 4 million inspired individuals who are seeking to lead heather lives and rid our food system of toxic ingredients. We have been able to grow because this is information people want to know and share with others.
But what has been the key to your success?
The Food Babe Army is behind all the success we have had. Getting theses companies to change their ingredients is only possible because of all the people who are willing to call the headquarters, email these companies, share this information with those around them and vote with their dollars. The Food Babe movement is about taking back control of our food.
Why did you choose Kraft first as your initial major target?
I picked Kraft because they are an industry leader. Kraft products are a staple in so many homes across the world. Kraft was also a prime example of a company who was reformulating their products overseas and creating safer ingredient options while continuing to feed Americans dangerous lesser quality products. It was clear that Kraft had the ability to make a better products because they were already doing it for Europe. This hypocrisy is a very immoral business practice that needs to cease.
Why do you think companies do this?
A financial gain means more for a lot of these companies than the health of their customers and the integrity of their products. Chemical additives are cheaper than their real food alternatives. When companies fill their products with processed chemicals it also extends the shelf life allowing them to lessen the risk of lost investment from products going bad on store shelves.
In the countries where regulations on food additives are higher, major corporations are forced to change their formulas in order to do business within those countries. These corporations are not going to change on their own.
What other companies have changed their ways because of your investigation and online pressure?
In the case of Kraft we were able to get artificial dyes removed from their mac and cheese products aimed at children and they have now also removed the dyes from their Deluxe products. Subway, the largest fast food company in the world decided to remove a controversial ingredient (used in bread and also in the rubber of shoe soles) after receiving 50,000 signatures in 24 hours on our petition to the chain. After receiving tremendous attention on my posts about Chick-Fil-A, I 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. Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors agreed to post their ingredients online for the first time in history, a mere 24 hours after we launched a campaign asking them to disclose their ingredients. As a result of continued pressure through several blog posts, Starbucks agreed to finally post their ingredients online and remove caramel coloring level IV from their drinks.
Other major food companies that have responded to my writings include Panera Bread, Pop Chips, Campbell’s Soup, Whole Foods, Lean Cuisine, McDonalds, General Mills, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, Yoforia, and Moe’s South West Grill.
There are many companies out there in the food industry. How do you choose who to go after?
It’s always deeply personal for me. If I have a friend or family member that’s eaten a certain product or at a restaurant – It inspires me to investigate.
Who else in on the “hit list”?
As we grow so does our ability to enact change quickly. There are many more companies we will focus on in the suture. As Americans, we have grown accustomed to outsourcing the majority of our meals. Unfortunately, for most individuals, this means they are eating more chemicals than they would ever be able to acquire in their own kitchen. The food Industry fills the majority of processed foods with potentially harmful chemicals that are not only worthless in providing nutritional value but additionally destroy your health, cause they are designed to make you to eat more than you should. As a food activist, I am working to teach people how to eat real food and to help improve the food that is offered outside the home.
How bad are these food additives really? We been living with them forever and no one seemed to care much.
We actually have not been living with chemicals in our food forever. Generations ago people were eating foods directly from the farm and consuming a diet rich in whole foods. The use of processed chemical filled foods as a main source of nutrition is a relatively new phenomenon. The cumulative effect of all these chemicals on our bodies has not been studied. As disease rates continue to rise and more and more people are living life tired and sick their needs to be a major reassessment of whose hands we are putting our health in. It is our responsibility to make sure we are healthy, not the food companies that profit from our purchases.
You argue that many of this companies like Kraft target kids with their junk food. But there are many healthy options out there. Isn’t it the responsibility of the parents to decide what they feed their children?
Yes, it is the responsibility of the parent to make informed decisions for their children but deceptive advertising from corporations has misinformed many parents. The marketing material from the food industry has been the main source of education on food for way too long.
You have spent a great deal of effort trying to make companies open up about their food contents and put them on labels. Do you think people actually read those?
Yes. The more people learn about what chemicals are in our food, the more people want to know what’s in their food. It is so important to look at the ingredients you are putting into your body. You are the chemicals you eat. I read the labels on everything I consume. The best way to eat healthy is to eat organic without additives. I understand it can be pricey to buy organic whole foods. Trust me though, it will be worth it in the long run. Eating organic, fresh produce as often as possible will have you feeling energetic, vibrant and healthy.
Your success has come with critics. Some argue that your findings are not scientific and in some cases misleading? Is there truth on those claims or is this the food giants reacting toward your pressure?
The people who attack me want the status quo to stay the same and they attempt to discredit me because they want to keep the information and research I uncover hidden from the public.
Some also question that you are now taking money from the same people your criticize, like Chick-fil-A?
When I was invited to Chick-fil-A headquarters I was working as a consultant by trade – consulting with major companies across the nation was my job. In various blog posts and live on CNN I made it clear I was hired by the company. As a result of my writings, influence and consumer demand, Chick-fil-A decided to drop several controversial ingredients like TBHQ, azodicarbonamide, high fructose corn syrup and they are committing to source chicken not raised with antibiotics within 5 years. I have never let my consulting experience get in the way of my values – even today I harshly criticize Chick-fil-A for not serving any organic menu items and for continuing to use MSG as a main ingredient in their sandwiches.
How further do you want to take this?
The day I am no longer doing this is the day when people all over the world are eating real food and companies are taking a stand for the health of those they are feeding. Myself and the Food Babe Army have a lot of work in front of us. I expect big things to come in the future. In February of 2015, my book “The Food Babe Way” will teach anyone across the globe to live organically in this over-processed world in just 21 days.
Thanks for reading this amazing coverage. Please take a moment and share these insights with your friends and family. We need to teach everyone about this very important work we are doing and have them join the Food Babe Army here.