Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

In my last blog post, I told you about Vani Hari, known in blogger circles as “Food Babe.” I told you about the panel discussion she monopolized at the recent BlogHer Conference and how she forms her very opinionated positions.

When she described her crusade against Subway, the Food Babe indicated that it wasn’t just about the bread. “Oh no,” she said.  “I wanted to turn the phrase ‘eat fresh’ on it’s head—if people are asking questions about the bread, then maybe they’ll start asking questions about the lettuce, and cheese and meat.”

You might be thinking, what makes Food Babe the expert? How does she decide what ingredients are “good” and which are “bad?” Luckily for you (and me) a food chemist and fellow blogger happened to ask that very question, and I think I can safely say that we were both unsatisfied with the cursory—and almost dismissive—response received.  

To paraphrase—the Food Babe indicated that she picks her next targets based on their ingredient list and that she’s always adhered to the rule of thumb that if you can’t pronounce it, it shouldn’t be in our food.

Ok—but as our in-audience chemist pointed out, some ingredients, like vitamins and minerals may “sound scary” but actually serve many valuable purposes.

“Come talk to me afterwards,” came Food Babe’s reply.

What was most interesting to me, however, about Food Babe’s Subway bread/yogamat campaign was how it began. This campaign against Subway didn’t start because Vani herself was eating there, but rather because her former co-worker used to eat a Subway sandwich every day. So Vani took it upon herself to investigate Subway’s ingredients. I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing her co-worker was just fine eating his “five dollar foot-long” in peace.

I’ve long maintained that we’re able to have these existential debates about food ethics and food activism because most of us in this country don’t have to combat abject poverty and true hunger or starvation.

But I’ll also maintain that despite Food Babe’s obvious viewpoint, restaurants like Subway, Chick Fil-A and food giants like Kraft don’t have any sort of sinister plot to make Americans sick or unhealthy. Food companies produce – and have always produced – what consumers demand. Just like farmers grow, produce and raise animals that become the food products on the grocery store shelves.

It’s that simple. A consumer wants a fast, easy and relatively healthy lunch option, so they grab a sub from Subway. Their kids want macaroni and cheese and they pick up that signature blue box and whip up a bowl of yummy, yellow, cheesy deliciousness.

In my humble opinion, Vani has turned her brand into a bullhorn: Just because you scream the loudest doesn’t mean you’re having a conversation. It’s not Food Babe, it’s Food bully.

And I’ve never liked a bully.