By Yvette d’Entremont via gawker
Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She’s also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by “breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life.” She and her army are out to change the world.
She’s also utterly full of shit.
I am an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology. Before working full-time as a science writer and public speaker, I worked as a chemistry professor, a toxicology chemist, and in research analyzing pesticides for safety. I now run my own blog, Science Babe, dedicated to debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere. Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.
Hari’s superhero origin story is that she came down with appendicitis and didn’t accept the explanation that appendicitis just happens sometimes. So she quit her job as a consultant, attended Google University and transformed herself into an uncredentialed expert in everything she admittedly can’t pronounce. Slap the catchy moniker “Food Babe” on top, throw in a couple of trend stories and some appearances on the Dr. Oz show, and we have the new organic media darling.
But reader beware. Here are some reasons why she’s the worst assault on science on the internet.
Natural, Organic, GMO-Free Fear
Hari’s campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte drove me to launch my site (don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything). She alleged that the PSL has a “toxic” dose of sugar and two (TWO!!) doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b.
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
But then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide?
It’s a goddamn stretch to say that sugar has deleterious effects, other than making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don’t “namaste” your cheeks off. However, I implore you to look at the Safety Data Sheet for sugar. The average adult would need to ingest about fifty PSLs in one sitting to get a lethal dose of sugar. By that point, you would already have hyponatremia from an overdose of water in the lattes.
And almost enough caffeine for me.
Are you feeling a little under the weather? Does your mind feel like someone else is in control? Do white lines in the sky make you nervous? If so—boy, have I got a theory for you. You’re slowly being poisoned…by clouds!
Yes: Chemtrails. Science claims that the white trails left in the sky by airplanes are really condensed water, but what if they’re really toxic chemicals? The chemtrail theory, which revolves around the long, white trails of vapor that are left behind by high-flying aircraft, is slowly metastasizing among hip, middle-aged internet users who want to appear smart but also failed third grade science.
How “Chemtrails” (Contrails) Actually Work
In reality, these white trails in the sky are called condensation trails, or contrails, and they form when the hot, moist exhaust from airplane engines condenses when it comes in contact with the extremely cold, moist air in the upper atmosphere. The trails consist of water vapor and pollutants from the burning of jet fuel. They’re man-made cirrus clouds, and aside from that whole ” pollution” thing, they’re harmless.
Contrails only form when temperatures and humidity levels in the upper atmosphere are just right—if the atmosphere is too dry, contrails won’t form at all; if the humidity is near 100%, the contrails can last for many hours and spread out into a thin veil of cirrus clouds. These trails can start and stop abruptly as the aircraft passes through regions of differing moisture and winds. Contrails can even form at ground level in the Arctic and Antarctic, where surface temperatures are cold enough to support their formation.
How Conspiracy Theorists Think They Work
In imagination land, conspiracy theorists assert that these trails are really tons and tons of chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere by government (or government-contracted) aircraft that are packed from floor to ceiling with tanks that hold these toxic compounds. The self-described activists call these theoretical chemical trails “chemtrails,” and the purpose of these purported spraying campaigns is to control the weather, make us sick, or control our minds. Sometimes it’s all three.
Where the Chemtrail Theory Comes From
It’s hard to pinpoint who was mental patient zero with most of these tin foil hat theories—sometimes conspiracies originate from the mind of one person, but even then they only really gain life as a collaborative work.
But it’s pretty easy to trace the origin of the chemtrail theory.
It began in the 1990s and came to nationwide attention when it gained traction on radio talk shows and budding internet forums. The theory is based on an Air University research paper written in August 1996 that details the ways in which the United States military would need to control the weather in order to maintain militaristic dominance over the world in the year 2025—at that point, 30 years in the future.
The paper is titled Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025, and it opens with a bold declaration . . .