How to Engage with Popular Messengers who Exploit Fears?

By Keith Kloor | April 8, 2015 8:41 am

If you are late to the Food Babe phenomenon, by which I mean the rise of a food activist named Vani Hari, there are no shortage of recent media articles exploring her fame. The Atlantic profile is among the best, because it is not judgmental and it gives voice to the science-based critics who are exasperated by her influence. The journalistic fascination with Hari is reflected in The Atlantic’s subhead:

How one woman mobilized an army against food additives, GMOs, and all else not “natural”

What we have not seen–to my knowledge–is a story explaining why that “army,” consisting of a very large number of people, was already primed for action.

There are hints of it in The Atlantic piece, such as this quote from University of Florida horticulturist Kevin Folta:

Vani is very good at marketing herself and telling people what they want to hear.

And this from a former nurse practitioner writing for Elle magazine is also spot-on:

Hari is charismatic and likable, so when she states something as a fact to a reader who is worried, has no science background, and just wants to feed their babies or their own body the right things, she hooks them.

The opening to an NPR profile on Hari is another hint:

In an age when consumers have become increasingly suspicious of processed food, the Internet has become a powerful platform for activists who want to hold Big Food accountable.

Actually, we live in an age where lots of people have become suspicious of many things tagged by activists–and the media–as harmful. It could be WiFi, cellphones, ATM receipts, fluoridated water, GMOs, your couch.

Pick your poison, mobilize your army–against Monsanto, against fluoridated water, against the ingredients found in just about every product.

New parents are especially susceptible to the “toxins all around us,” as Scientific American (!) termed the “hidden health threat” from “chemicals in everyday objects.”

How is that many of us have become convinced of the toxicity of modern day life? That is a topic for another day. For now, I want to point out that the media has played an essential role in priming our chemophobia. That’s the background context for the “yoga mat chemical” frenzy and other public health scares set off by the Food Babe & company.

Vani Hari doesn’t exist in a vacuum. She’s just come along at the right time.

So I have mixed feelings about the withering Gawker evisceration that has many Food Babe critics chortling. She may be “the worst assault on science on the internet,” as Gawker alleges, but then again, the pseudoscience runs thick on the internet, which thankfully has prompted an army of science bloggers dedicated to countering it.

I am conflicted about the Food Babe takedown because 1) she is deserving of it and 2) she is merely a popular symbol of something much larger than herself. That would be a creeping dread of “common chemicals” that On Earth magazine identified several years ago as poisoning a generation of kids. As a parent of two young boys, I can relate to this outsized fear without giving into it. The tricky part is addressing it in a way that doesn’t alienate the people who are most gripped by it.

In short, how to be respectful of sincere concerns while also taking the air out of them? So I get the misgivings about the Gawker piece expressed by one science communicator.

This is the same problem public health communicators are faced with when addressing vaccine fears. The problem for many of us who write about these concerns–whether they are of GMOs, pesticides, or the chemicals in your couch– is that we end up taking on the most forceful, and yes, exploitative, messengers of these concerns. Some of these messengers are not just overnight sensations or web populists, like the Food Babe. They are highly regarded NGOs or thought leaders who are invested with a moral authority and have the respectful ear of many, including the media. I discussed their role in a recent talk at Cornell, which I’ll elaborate on in a follow-up post tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a question to ponder: How do you communicate to a popular and deeply flawed messenger of health concerns, such as a Dr. Oz or a Vani Hari, who has a large, built-in audience and who seems immune to facts?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized
ADVERTISEMENT
  • JH

    “How do you communicate to a popular and deeply flawed messenger of health concerns, such as a Dr. Oz or a Vani Hari, who has a has a large, built-in audience and who seems immune to facts?”

    You don’t. For the most part – a few exceptions – they’ve built their position and they’re stuck with it. The same is true of scientists who stick with a position too long.

    IMO whether you attack them or not it doesn’t matter all that much as long as the opposition keeps active. Eventually the lack of any evidence supporting the fear of “big food” and other scares will cause the popular fear to dissipate.

    (see how the climate debate fits in here? The lack of evidence of the predicted dramatic changes has given ample room for skeptics to persist)

    • KidPresentable

      You actually had me thinking you’re comment was a worth while addition to the conversation and managed to trick me into reading the whole thing. Bravo.

      • JH

        Maybe that’s because it is a worthwhile addition but your bias is so strong that you can’t rationally assess anything that confronts the lack of evidence for catastrophic climate change.

  • mem_somerville

    As you perhaps saw, I was also noting that this particular heated piece at issue at Gawker gave the opportunity for very unusual outlets to comment. Elle? This is a women’s magazine, where I would not have expected to see criticism of Hari. And there was also a piece at Cosmo.

    I think the strong voice of ScienceBabe gave others the opportunity to stand up and say what they think, too. The reach of the ripples of this was important.

    But ok–you liked the Atlantic profile. How was the reach of that? How many ripples did it generate? Can you quantitate that–or did you just prefer the tone and assume it was more influential? Nobody seems to be able to answer that type of question.

    I think that we are far too often reaching only the choir on these pieces. And that something that breaks out of the choir is totally worthwhile.

    Not long ago there was another twitter flap when Carl Zimmer had a piece in Playboy. Some women in science were upset by this. But I think we need to go to where the people are. It’s great to have erudite and educational pieces that get shared around among each other. But we know it’s not the deficit model, right? We need to reach the communities that need to hear it. And ScienceBabe did.

    • JH

      Science babe didn’t and doesn’t do anything except justify a woman opposing a woman. Her militancy is just as much of a turn off as the militancy of Food Babe. Her militancy reflects her shallow, one-dimensional approach. Like the title of her blog, it’s pretty much just the polar opposite of food babe.

      • mem_somerville

        That is false. ScienceBabe has taken on many topics, including eating disorders driven by the likes of the FUDbabe. http://www.scibabe.com/foodbabeway/
        But why let facts get in the way, right? The foodbabe way!

        • JH

          What’s false? That her attitude is a turn off? :)

          Science Babe is, to the best of my knowledge, *very* accurate in her presentation of scientific and medical information, and in that sense she meets a certain need – and is, as I suggested, the polar opposite of FUD Babe.

          But Im betting her FU militancy is a turn off to most people outside the Science Blog Echo Chamber, and in that sense she shoots herself in the foot and cuts herself off from a much wider audience of people who could really use her advice.

          Your quick to pull the trigger at someone you perceive as an adversary without paying much attention to what’s been said.

          • Liz McLellan

            One thing I’ve learned is it takes ALL kinds of arguments. Some people will be moved by pieces like The Atlantic (if they ever read it…) and some people will be moved by a good Fisking.

            Play nice is something you hear around atheist debates a lot. But, when you talk to individuals about why they lost their religion – you will get very different answers. Some went through a deeply academic process and some were shocked into a new point of view by being ridiculed – being forced to acknowledge that there were many many people who were quite clear that their religion had zero claim to reality.

            So…tone arguments will continue ad nauseum and different people will respond do different approaches.

          • mem_somerville

            All of it is false, but I am on the road and don’t have time to get you all the links.
            I saw a lot of people outside the science blogosphere appreciate this. They were waiting for something to post on Facebook to their credulous family members who keep dropping the derp on them, and they are very tired if it.
            Seems to me the people who keep telling me it’s not effective don’t want it to be, because it isn’t their taste. I don’t really care if it isn’t your taste. I find that people who pretend to be agreeable when they don’t really agree or have other motives are slimy–you know, like FudBabe. They aren’t to my taste. But I don’t go around telling them that it doesn’t work, because obviously some people do fall for that. But there is still room for strong denunciations, and this case earned it more than most. FudBabe is dangerous to people’s heath with the level of bad information and the volume.
            But why don’t you show me an example of one that had this kind of impact that you liked in tone. I keep asking for them, nobody has them.

          • Sienna Rosachi

            She got the science wrong on sugar. She said it caused weight gain only when in fact it is linked to lipid problems, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and more

      • BuffaloGal

        Um, science, by its very definition has a narrow approach and focus. Since when does science claim to know everything?

    • Benjamin Edge

      Vani Hari and folks like Mike Adams and Dr. Oz are too financially invested in their misinformation campaigns to ever publicly admit they are actually wrong about anything. That’s why Hari doesn’t allow posts on her FaceBook page that ask questions or dispute her claims. It’s why she doesn’t give interviews except with trusted outlets that she knows will serve up softball questions. It’s why Dr. Oz doesn’t invite scientists on his show without major editing to give the message he wants to present.

      I’m becoming more convinced that the Science Babe method is the only way to counteract these frauds. Call them out on their lies and twisting of the truth, and show them to be the frauds that they are so that mainstream media will be afraid to touch them. You will never convince them to change, and doubtful that you will change their true believers, but you can make it so that others will not be so easily sucked in.

      People are looking for a silver bullet that will cure their weight and health problems. They don’t want to hear that their choices are the main problem. These pseudoscience vendors prey on that search by providing them something that they can believe in, and they do it primarily by telling them that they can’t trust scientists, farmers, and food manufacturers. Is it unfair to turn the tables on them, using some of the same methods, but with truth on our side? Time for the kid gloves to come off, because obviously, trying to reason with them is not working.

      • mem_somerville

        Last night in conversation I was pointing out the evidence-based, MD-written, excellent science blog by Jennifer Gunter fisking the FUDbabe fearmongery that was aiming to get pregnant women to not do the glucose tests for gestational diabetes. This is not just “eat more kale”. This is dangerous misinformation. Did that get to Elle? Cosmo? Everyone’s Facebook page? No. Got a fraction of the reddit upvotes. I know, because I put it there.
        I love science blogs. I write science blogs. But they are not reaching folks who are already disinclined to read science.

      • Sienna Rosachi

        But science babe gave some misinformation herself. In particular about sugar, which is a hot topic in mainstream medical journal and has been identified as a problem for Americans (too much consumption) and linked to an increased risk of heart disease. It is hard for a non professional to address nutrition. Science babe is no better in many instances than the food babe.

        • Geoff Pearman

          I have to disagree with you about what the SciBabe said about sugar. She was specifically talking about what a “toxic dose” of sugar would be.

          Never once did she mention that over consumption of sugar is not a problem. Her point was more about the fact that Hari says that a Pumpkin Spice Latte has a toxic dose of sugar, while Hari sells a product on her own website that has a very similar dose.

          These are two different arguments and they should be treated as such. It’s common knowledge at this point that overconsumption of sugar is a major risk for type II diabetes, but the SciBabe didn’t touch that particular topic. She was making a reference to how the FB abuses the word “toxic.”

    • JoAnna

      I totally agree. So often the pieces I read about anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers and fear-exploiters like FoodBabe are published in places where the audience already KNOWS! Do I like reading those pieces? Sure! Are they just giant echochamber circlejerks? Absolutely! You’re absolutely correct about reach–if something is published in Slate, Dr. Oz followers aren’t necessarily going to read it…

    • Kelly Bourdet

      I’m the health director at Refinery29, a digital women’s magazine, and I’m surprised that you don’t expect to see discussion of health topics at women’s outlets. Elle, Cosmo, and Refinery29 all regularly cover health topics. In fact, we interviewed ScienceBabe about Hari’s book and its scientific inaccuracies over a month ago, well ahead of Gawker’s piece.

      • mem_somerville

        When did I say “health topics”? I said criticism of Hari. Don’t misrepresent what I said. I read your piece with ScienceBabe, I had no idea you were a women’s magazine. I didn’t see any ripples from that— did you see any? Please, show me what you saw.
        There have been plenty of other critiques of Hari before yours too. Some with real depth on her business model. Some aimed more at the misinformation. I’ve seen people who might be perceived to be on Hari’s team (Marion Nestle, Michele Simon–who I rarely agree with) have had very critical things to say specifically about Hari. None of them had the reach of this one.

      • Rat

        Thank you for including Science Babe on your site. We need more women like her who make science less intimidating to the average person, and who call out the b.s. of bloggers like Hari.

    • Miles Stockdale

      It is interesting to try to figure out what impacts people and what doesn’t.

      I can say that my better half (who keeps her wall for only personal stuff) told me last night that 4 facebook friends linked to the science babe piece. She said it was the first time she had ever seen a piece negative of the food babe posted by a friend. I asked her if the 4 friends were skeptics, and she said that while 2 were, she was genuinely surprised by the other 2.

      On a personal level, I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. I sometimes feel that I should, as I went from being a vocal anti-vax, anti-GMO activist, to a strong supporter. But recently, I found that the story I tell about my own conversion story was only partially true.

      Of the people in real life who I know have changed away from their anti-GMO views they were:

      A friend who posted a long facebook screed about the evils of GMOs. A farmer friend of his who grows GMO crops highlighted a couple of the most ridiculous claims and simply asked him: “Do you honestly believe that these claims are true about me?”

      A little while my friend responded that he had never really thought about the claims he was making, and upon reflection, no he did not believe those claims were true. A few months later I saw him defending GMOs.

      My better half was suspicious of GMOs after watching things like Food Inc. In 2010 she watched a debate about GMOs at her university and afterwards introduced herself to one of the students debating on the pro-side and told him that he had changed her mind. A few months later they started dating and we are now engaged.

      For myself, the story that I told for many years was that back in 2005 a frustrated doctor friend blew up at an anti-vaxer comment of mine, and when I set out to prove him wrong, I proved myself wrong, setting the chain in motion resulting in me quickly becoming a science-based person on other issues. The tough love worked. But when I went back over all the material I could find from the time, I discovered that while admitting I was wrong on one anti-vax claim, and maybe becoming a little more cautious of some of the claims from my side, I actually briefly dipped my toe into the science and skepticism community, and reacted against it even more strongly, while delving further than ever before into the woo for another 2 years. It was at that time that a different trigger led to the changes of me becoming pro-vax and dropping the conspiracy views. Despite this my anti-GMO views were the ones I really wanted to hold onto. I bulked up on books and documentaries by the likes of Smith, but to be intellectually honest, I also got a debate book on the subject. It started off with a lecture by Prince Charles and a response by Dawkins. And that is what started to drop those barriers (I have long had a strong dislike of the prince and as an atheist really liked Dawkins), this was further enforced with the second section which had pro and anti-essays on golden rice. Seeing both sides honestly portrayed by both sides made the anti-golden rice side seem insane. Going back to my internet posts on various forums at the time, it amazed me to see a change from virulently anti-GMO to pro-GMO almost literally overnight. As much as would like to say that evidence was the decided, I do suspect that tribalism (in terms of Dawkins vs the Prince) played a very strong role.

      What I get from those experiences is that I have no idea what works, and what does is probably different for everyone.

  • http://www.vaslaw.com/ Richard Arrett

    Keith – is there a link to the food babe takedown in your piece? If so, it didn’t jump out at me.

    After reading your piece, I thought the next step would be to see this takedown.

    • mem_somerville

      It’s the “Gawker evisceration” link.

      • http://www.vaslaw.com/ Richard Arrett

        Thank you.

  • Emileigh Clare

    This is a really good topic! Here’s another article by Bruce Maiman that I really liked which also had good thoughts on your question of engagement- http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/bruce-maiman/article10483403.html. In short, ridicule doesn’t work, working with institutions that they find trustworthy or responding directly to their concerns or their identity can help too.

    On the media, it’s interesting to note that while there has been good coverage of anti-science moments/icons lately (Food Babe, Dr. Oz and Chobani) even that coverage can be problematic because it is generally just stirring the pot. And for every one of those “ra ra science” posts there are tons more needlessly scary articles that promote chemopobia at the same time, from the same sources.

    The question of how to engage with popular messengers who exploit fears is a good one, but it is hard to reason/engage with clickbait tactics.

    • BuffaloGal

      Scientists who go out of Friday nights know that science ain’t everything. Its a very isolated, narrow minded world, that does not claim to know everything. Science is artificial and has very narrow perspective. It looks at the world through only one facet. You’ve gotta be able to turn off the scientist at some point in order to function in the social world.. This forum is not a medical or chemistry journal. It is social. The Oz and FoodBabe personas do not exist for science. They are for entertainment. Look, religion and fuzzy-feely stuff can’t be synthesized in a test tube. Keep the microscope in the lab.

      • Erik Brody Dreyer

        medicine is a within the “narrow perspective” of science. keep the entertainment out of peoples health decisions.

  • First Officer

    I do believe the shakedowns have had some positive effects. Vani Hari would not have retracted (and, of course, deleted, to protect her image) her more outrageous claims such as Hitlers and Stalins in microwaved water and nitrogen in the cabin air of planes, if there wasn’t such a strong public outcry over them. But, she still stands by her other howlers such as her wheatgrass article, which includes even more elements than Mercola’s Himalayan salt (I personally didn’t know the transuranic elements were so essential to my health! Hooray for Neptunium!) and only because there has not been as strong reaction to those, yet.

    http://foodbabe.com/2011/09/02/what-a-miracle-food-wheatgrass-bali/

  • Emellbee

    The problem is that people like Vani do not communicate, at least not on the socially normal terms. They preach and they scare then they coddle the followers. If you read her Facebook page she won’t answer her “army” unless it is something she can sell to them or direct them to one of her affiliates. Lately it’s been “buy my book and you’ll get that answer”. She’s become unreachable and been given this God like status among the scared flock she’s created. People are now coming to her with serious medical questions believing they can’t trust their doctors because of “big pharma” while their children are struggling with sickness. There are so many others out there doing it RIGHT but then again I supposed what I believe is right is just doing it without making millions and scaring the general public.

  • Nom de Plume

    Meanwhile, a question to ponder: How do you communicate to a popular and
    deeply flawed messenger of health concerns, such as a Dr. Oz or a Vani
    Hari, who has a large, built-in audience and who seems immune to facts?

    You don’t. Well, you can try, but most of the time it won’t do any good. The best you can do is counter the misinformation, point by point. Above all, you recognize that all you can do is present accurate information. You cannot make a person believe it.

  • Loren Eaton

    Whether or not the Gawker article crosses the line of politeness can certainly be discussed…..but bear in mind that this woman, and other like-minded folks (Adams, Smith and Shiva) have used very offensive language to describe those of us who do biotech for a living. They justify these lies (and that’s just what they are) as the ends justifying the means. It gets people’s attention. Like telling the waiter you are allergic to butter when you are not.
    That being said, this woman needs to be cut off at the pass at every opportunity. Taking nutritional or scientific advice form Ms. Hari is like letting your 2 year-old run with a butcher knife. They might get away without getting hurt a few times, but eventually something bad will happen. She is SO ill-informed she might actually give someone some very bad advice that they take and ‘double down’ on and cause themselves to get sick or do something counter-productive to their health. Regardless of the purity of her motives, she doesn’t seem to realize that ignorance is never a virtue.

  • bobito

    “why that “army,” consisting of a very large number of people, was already primed for action”

    I’ll submit Pascal’s Wager. If one is incapable, or too lazy, to definitively determine zero risk you might as well accept it as gospel. People have been pulling the crap since the dawn of time!

  • Viva La Evolucion

    Speaking of exploiting fears, I would like to see Keith write an article about the recent reclassification of Glyphosate as “probably causes cancer” by the World Health Organization.

    • Erik Brody Dreyer

      I know I’m a late-comer to this discussion, but Glyphosate was just moved into into the class 2A carcinogen classification. You should look at some of the other things that are in the same classification, like fireplaces and frying food.

      • Viva La Evolucion

        Yes, I agree that there are many Class 2A carcinogens, such as high temperature frying and and burning wood inside ones home, that can be used to downplay the significance of the classification. But the fact is that regular consumption of fried food and regularly burning wood inside ones home are things that significantly increase ones risk of cancer, and so to does regular expose to glyphosate. By the way, I believe DDT is actually less carcinogenic than glyphosate, as it is in the “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogen” category. While I don’t believe Glyphosate should be banned, I would like to see governmental regulations that restrict and reduce it’s use to around half of current pounds on the ground. This could be achieved by simply discontinuing our current Corn/Soy bio-fuel subsides.

  • Sienna Rosachi

    This is amusing that Kloor thinks he can “engage” with anyone, as attacking people is his style and MO. He is rude most of the time and wrong much of the time.

  • Lori

    So what I think we need to focus on is how the internet can help validate information, rather than spread misinformation. You can tell people to read more responsible sources but how can they find them and trust them? The internet has certainly turned me off as a scientist. At first I looked at it as escaping the library. Now I see it as the worlds biggest billboard. Most importantly I see it erroding folks trust in science.

  • Buddy199

    “How is that many of us have become convinced of the toxicity of modern day life?”

    The narcissistic neurosis of modern affluence. When you don’t have to worry about scrounging enough food to eat each day, or how to keep your sick child alive without any medicine, or whether you’re going to be attacked by the neighboring warlord or wild animals – things the majority of humans were rightly concerned about for the past 100,000 years – you start worrying about minutae because you have nothing better to do.

    • Chaosfeminist

      You just identified how to solve the problem. We as a species have been in fight or flight mode for thousands of years. When most of the problems of survival are addressed, we need something else to fight to justify staying alive. That is probably why so many affluent first worlders are depressed. Nothing to fight against. That is probably why affluent people say they “feel better” once they start being militantly organic. They have an enemy. Turn the fight into a fight against ignorance and misinformation.

  • Jerry James

    However Miss Manners you want to be, it is still irresponsible and wrong to give quackery the same weight and respect as fact.

  • http://www.chucklasker.com/ Chuck Lasker

    You DON’T communicate with the fear mongers. They are in it for the fame and profit, not for truth or reality. They must be marginalized. We already know arguing with facts and science only makes these folks dig in further to their positions. But when you make the fear mongers look like nutcases, you help people avoid becoming fans in the first place. Public shaming works in our society quite well. Just look at what is happening with anti-vaxxers. They’re on their heels playing defense, getting beat up for their irresponsible behavior. It’s no longer socially acceptable to post anti-vaxx misinformation or to have unvaccinated children (without a medical reason). Laws are being made to mandate vaccinations. That issue is all but dead. Not due to facts and science, but due to public shaming that has finally infiltrated the media.

    • Metinks

      You subscribe to public shaming? No one will care what you think about the GMO movement after Monsanto is convicted of crimes against humanity in Belgium. Already their own documents, submitted to the EPA, have been unsealed and reveal they have known the dangers of their products for decades. The lawsuits are mounting. So how did it feel to be ousted from the presidency of the Kauai Rotary Club for HATE SPEECH against women and children injured by chemical over-spray from the GMO seed companies you take money from? How did it feel to take money from a naturopath for work you never intended to do on his website? That’s illegal where I come from. I suppose you felt justified since you think holistic medicine is a scam? Where do you think pharmaceutical drugs come from? They are derivatives from natural substances. Interesting that you call people who express concerns “fear mongers who want attention”. One has only to search your name to see you’re the one that wants attention. You wouldn’t happen to be a short man, would you? I’m looking forward to the crow you’ll be eating when the GMO companies are outed, just like the cigarette companies were outed. You’re a waste of skin little man.

  • NeilinCascadia

    The offensive thing to me about Vani Hari is not that she is scaring people but that she is making, I’m guessing, significant amounts of money from scaring people. And this is also her weak point. Figure out how much money she earns from the site, speaking engagements, endorsements, etc (it’s gotta be at least in the low to mid six figure range?) and then contrast it to what you earn Keith, and how much someone like Prof Folta gets paid to speak.

    • Loren Eaton

      Good catch. And of course people like me who make a living in science and have the audacity to defend themselves are shills.

    • bobito

      Just a modern Snake Oil salesperson…

  • Michelle Francl

    I did an interview for NPR about this, after writing a review of the Food Babe’s book for Slate (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/02/food_babe_book_and_blog_claims_beaver_ass_coal_tar_and_yoga_mat_in_your.html), and we talked a bit about what might be effective ways to engage in these debates. My favorite question they asked was “What do you want to tell Vani Hari, if you could tell her one thing?” Who knows what will land in the final piece, but it’s an interesting question – if you could say one thing, what would it be. It can’t just be refuting a single fact, but needs to somehow move the conversation to the methods.

    • Buddy199

      You can’t say anything by way of logic or scientific evidence that would persuade her or her followers. She would: a) call you a persecuting shill for your puppet masters, and b) twist what you said into another log on the fire of her martyrdom. The only way hucksters ever completely go out of business is by committing an enormous unforgivable sin that violates the core principles of the tribe. Barring that they can get away with hypocrisies, smelly scandals and even sputtering fame and still make a pretty nice long term living of the hard core true believers.

      • BuffaloGal

        Don’t forget that the Oz and Food Babe personas exist for entertainment and social reasons and cater to the general mind, not the laboratory bubble. They do not exist for scientific scrutiny, but for social reasons.

  • BuffaloGal

    If you can avoid chemicals – why not avoid them? And if you can avoid highly processed food and eat whole, natural foods with better nutrients – why not? So what harm is the organic-and-whole-foods crowd doing to everybody else if they want to avoid chemicals? Maybe it’s not as bad as it is made out to be; maybe the dangers are exaggerated. Then again, nobody wakes up and says, “I want more chemicals in my food today!” Maybe chemicals do more harm than good.

    Evangelists of a chemical-free, whole foods lifestyle seem not to be doing any real harm. In fact, they may do more good than harm. It seems more likely than not that chemicals and highly processed food are not the greatest thing for us.

    So if you don’t agree with the platform, then take it with a grain of salt. And don’t watch Dr Oz or Food Babe.

    Personally, I agree that highly processed food is poor in nutrients, so I eat more raw uncooked fruits and vegetables. And I prefer to use natural, chemical free cleaning products (they work just as well). And I like to eat organic produce and drink from glass containers that don’t ooze petroleum chemicals into my food and water. Hey, why not? It isn’t hurting anybody, and it might be doing more good (or sparing more trouble) than anyone realizes.

    • Skeptologist

      Chemical free cleaning products??? Unless the bottle is under vacuum there’s no such thing. Same goes with chemical free eating, you’ll starve.

      • BuffaloGal

        Cleaners: Everybody has heard of vinegar. And I make my own orange cleaner with orange peels. Lemon juice works great for a lot of things. All are natural ingredients that work.

        Food: Organic food is not grown with nasty chemicals. I am vegan, buy organic and whole foods, and have acquired an extra 10 lbs around the middle…nobody in my house is starving. And we don’t do chemicals.

        Keep an open mind. You can be healthy, happy, clean, and chemical free.

        • Skeptologist

          Chemical free is a nonsensical concept. That was my point. Chemistry and by extension chemicals involve everything that is material.

      • BuffaloGal

        Thank you for pointing out that everything is made of combinations of elements found on the periodic chart we studied in elementary, high school, and possibly college. With that in mind, let’s move from the laboratory bubble into the real social world where “green” people commonly understand that “chemicals” are man-made stuff, generally not carbon-based, and not found in nature, and are generally toxic to the body or environment. Granted, in the lab bubble, the stuff that comes out of an oil well is an organic substance, but we all kind of agree that oil slicks are not something that birds and fish thrive in.

        I once worked for a public servant who often ran into people trying to push their agenda. One day a a social function he ran into two scientists who owned an alternative fuel production company. They talked and talked about all kinds of technical stuff that, frnakly, went over everybody’s head. Everybody rolled their eyes. He couldn’t escape – they were major contributors, and had him physically backed into a corner two-to-one. I had to interrupt and fake an emergency for him to escape to socially akward situation. For the rest of the night, everybody drank, ate, and had fun.

        This comment forum is a social forum, not the isolated world of a laboratory. Discover magazine is not a technical peer-reviewed science publication, but is geared toward a popular audience. Let’s keep out audience in mind when writing and leave the narrow-mionded technical stuff for the lab.

        Thanks for pointing out to us the narrow scope of science, which confines itself to things which can been seen, measured, and quantified, and not everything under the sun. .

        • Skeptologist

          Fair enough. I’ll concede that point. But veering too far into colloquial language can result in a loss of context and understanding. Like when people say ‘don’t eat anything containing ingredients you can’t pronounce!’ Simplicity has it’s risks.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+