Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

Last week, I told you about my conversation (if you want to call it that) with the folks at the ASPCA booth during the 2014 BlogHer Food Conference in Florida. While ASPCA’s very presence was somewhat upsetting to me, what was more curious was an entire breakout session the following day about “Food Activism,” titled: How to Turn Food Ethics into Action.

The panelists included Blog Designer, Internet Consultant, and October #Unprocessed founder Andrew Wilder; Food blogger and Sustainable Seafood Blog Project founder Jessie Johnson; Food allergy blogger and Food Allergy Bloggers Conference Founder Jenny Sprague; and last but certainly not least, food activist and blogger Vani Hari AKA Food Babe.

While three of the four panelists seemed open to hearing different perspectives and even had meaningful conversations with the other “ag folks” in the room following the panel session—the Food Babe was not nearly as open-minded.

Vani is a beautiful woman—thin, with a perfect caramel-colored skin indicative of her Indian heritage—something you can tell she’s very proud of.

After monopolizing the conversation for nearly the entire session, I gained some valuable insight into Food Babe’s alleged “food journey,” which I thought I’d share with you.

Vani grew up first generation Indian in America. According to her, her parents wanted her, and her siblings, to eat “American” food, which usually included fast-food, “processed” food and quintessential items like TV dinners. Instead of eating her mother’s “fresh,” traditional Indian cooking, Vani ate cheeseburgers and fries, milkshakes and Poptarts. 

The Food Babe had her “aha” moment after being rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy. Despite the doctor telling her that appendicitis can happen to anyone, the Food Babe—at home on her Christmas break from college—put her high school debate skills to the test and began researching food production.

Through her research, she became convinced that everything that we eat has a direct effect on our health—and that her “unhealthy” diet (her words, not mine) directly resulted in her surgery.

I’m a firm believer in everyone having their own truth to tell—and if that’s Vani’s then I say “Amen sister.” But in this case, I’m using the word “truth” loosely.

Having built a brand—and yes, she is a brand now—around combating “big food” and “big ag” I was disturbed by the vitriol and callousness with which Vani addressed the BlogHer Food audience.

At several points in the panel she not only interrupted and corrected other panelists (who, by the way, most likely had their own “truths” to share), but she also called out the representative attending the conference for Monsanto about GMO corn, among other topics.

Just observing the Food Babe in action left me conflicted about the very title of the panel—“Turning Food Ethics into Action.”

If you are a blogger and you have a point-of-view, I think that’s great. You want to share vegan recipes, or promote Paleo or gluten-free (GF) or the Atkins diet—more power to you. I support that—in fact my best friend has celiac disease and so I myself read GF blogs searching for recipes to cook when she comes over.

But I also think that people should, in some regards, either do their research or stick to what they know. There’s a reason that I don’t write about feed conversions or PEDv—because that’s not my area of expertise. I stick to communications and advocacy (and some days I even wonder if I know and understand that!!).

With power comes responsibility, and if you build up a loyal, dedicated and engaged following, then in my mind you have the ethical obligation to wield that power for good, instead of evil.

Well, and to check your facts.

Next week, I’ll share an example this woman gave regarding her campaign against Subway. You’ll be shocked at how her interest began and how it has evolved.