The Food Babe, Vani Hari | Investigating What’s Really in Our Food & How She Changed Chipotle, Subway & Other Multi-Billion Dollar Food Companies
My guest today is food advocate Vani Hari. In 2011, Vani accidentally found herself creating a food blog called ‘The Food Babe.’ With a background in computer science and a career in banking and securities Vani’s own health journey led her to take a hard look at our food companies and what they are putting in our boxes and bags. Remember when they asked Subway to take the chemical that’s in yoga mats that makes it evenly airy and spongy out of their bread? That was Vani. She is in a role that she never chose to be in but is running with it in the most organized and potent way she can. An unintentional hero on my behalf, your behalf, and of the interest of our children’s health. Why would the large food companies put better ingredients in products they make for the European market because it’s required, and still not do the same for the very same food that they sell on our shelves? Vani not only asks these questions but follows up to see if they’ve made the changes which oftentimes they do not. Chipotle telling us exactly what’s in their food? A move inspired by Vani and the Food Babe crew. A mother of two, wife, activist, and entrepreneur with her own food company Truvani. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode here:
- Vani and Scuba Diving [00:06:29]
- A Push to Health and Wellness [00:11:36]
- Creating a Food Blog [00:19:22]
- Taking Medications [00:21:27]
- Parental and Work Life [00:29:55]
- Making Food Companies Accountable [00:34:42]
- On Companies Using Artificial Food Ingredient [00:41:42]
- Handling Objections [00:47:09]
- Food Info [00:52:08]
- Food Hacks for Travelers [00:59:05]
- The Ingredient is Important [01:08:36]
The Food Babe, Vani Hari | Investigating What’s Really in Our Food & How She Changed Chipotle, Subway & Other Multi-Billion Dollar Food Companies
“I went from 30 pounds overweight and super sick on nine prescription drugs to zero prescription drugs, being able to maintain my weight with no dieting just eating real food. The people who worked with me, my friends, and my family in my town of Charlotte were like, “What are you doing? You look totally different than when I saw you when you were growing up.” I wanted to tell them.”
“The level of expert has been completely changed in terms of the definition of an expert and who you should believe and who you shouldn’t believe. My parents, growing up, were to the book in terms of, “You’re having asthma or you’re having eczema. Let’s go to the dermatologist. They want to give you a cortisone shot and put you on cortisone cream, another two prescription drugs. Sure.” It’s the doctor telling you to do this. It’s not what we have today.
I feel like we’re finally having an awakening moment where people are questioning, “Am I supposed to be experiencing this eczema and asthma? Are there other issues that are the root cause of these situations in my body? Can I explore those in a different way?” Maybe there’s a different way other than taking prescription drugs that have a litany of side effects and unknown effects long-term on the human body.”
My guest is a food activist, author, and creator of the Food Babe, Vani Hari. Doing my research on Vani, I found it fascinating that here you have a highly intelligent woman. She used to work with banks and insecurities. She has a computer science degree. Her own experience of not being well, eating a lot of the wrong foods, and getting sick led her on this path of realizing that she could manage and contribute to her health by her food.
This is someone who was on the debate team in high school. It led her to look at the food industry and say, “I’m going to quit my grownup job. I’m going to take a risk here because I have to go for this.” She got herself healthy, lost a ton of weight, healed her own eczema and asthma, and things like that. She was somebody who is on medications for asthma, sleep, and other things. With this comes a lot of criticism. This is the part that always fascinates me.
For example, let’s say you go to a food brand that is doing children’s products and they put ingredients that, in Europe, they don’t allow. Someone petitions them. Vani figures out how to petition these companies and says, “I’ve got 200, 15,000, 50,000 signatures, or whatever it takes. We’d like you to look at this.” A lot of this is they don’t even have to figure out what the recipe is, they already have it because they do it in Europe. Yet, they don’t change it here.
When you take on a behemoth like the food industry, you’re going to have a lot of criticism. Vani, in a genuine attempt to want to share this information, looked into this, and ask these companies that are putting food in all of our groceries to be accountable. To me, it seems pretty reasonable. They’re going to say things like, “You don’t have a degree in food science and chemistry.” The people who make our food do and we know how well that’s working out. That’s a silly argument at this point.
I admire the questioning and the process. She’s been successful at it. She has several books like The Food Babe Way and Feeding You Lies, which talks about her experience of getting hammered during this process, and Food Babe Kitchen. She has a book coming out called Food Babe Family. She has two children and she’ll be sharing recipes. If you go to her site and her Instagram, she gives away a ton of free information. If you want to get more involved, you can go to FoodBabe.com and they can tell you how you can get involved.
She also has created a company called Truvani. They’ve got supplements, protein powders, and personal care. It’s alternatives and options with the right kinds of ingredients. One thing I know and I do find it interesting is we expect people that are trying to do better, to be perfect, or to get every single post right or every single ingredient. The fact is I don’t think it’s possible but at least she’s willing to put herself out there and ask the questions.
She’s inspiring and smart. I don’t know if you remember years ago when they were talking about the subway bread, it has this material that makes yoga mats evenly fluffy and spongy. They were putting in the bread. Vani found out about this and she was the person responsible for that or asking Chipotle, “Please, tell us what is in your food and your ingredients.”
A lot of us want to do more and we’re scared of criticism. We’re scared because we are not perfect. Vani is not only a great reminder of what is possible when you believe in something but that there’s no choice. It is important for us to figure out how we can navigate our grocery aisle because it’s pretty difficult. If you have people who are already stressed out, working such long days, trying to navigate their families, and also on a budget, this is hard. I appreciate her. I hope you enjoy the show.
Hi, Vani. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining me.
Hi, Gabby. I am so excited to be here. I have been such a huge fan of yours, it feels like a lifetime since my probably my 20s. I used to go to your website and look at all the workouts you were doing with your amazing group of women that you would do in Hawaii. You would publish the YouTube and the workouts and I would do those all the time. It’s an odd moment for me to be here with you. Thank you so much. Can I tell you something else that’s the most ridiculous thing in the whole world?
I was at the beach with some friends and we were playing this game where you ask everybody these questions. The question was, who would you like to be, dead or alive, switch places with them in their life? I said Laird Hamilton because I wanted to know what it felt like to be that fearless in the ocean on those giant waves and to be in the ocean every day and that being your job and your passion. That would be amazing.
I’m an avid scuba diver and I love the ocean and everything else. To have that powerful fearlessness about yourself and to think that you can take on Mother Nature like that, I want to do that. I want to know what it feels like to be him. I’m the co-founder of Truvani, an organic products company. We have a weekly meeting where we ask these types of questions to our entire team every single week. That question popped up again. I told the whole team I wanted to be Laird Hamilton. I got to tell them on the call, “Guess who I’m interviewing with? Guess whose podcast I’m on?” It was the coolest thing.
[bctt tweet=”I continue moving towards the mission of informing people about what’s in our food, creating products that I wish to see in the world at Truvani, and that’s what I’m focused on.”]
For over 27 years I’ve been with Laird, we have surfed together maybe fifteen times, it’s not very much. There have been times that I have looked over and thought, “He looks like he knows how to have a lot of fun in this environment.” I love the water and I feel comfortable. You have an interesting point because Laird’s ability to find patches of harmony with that energy is unusual. I say to him, “That must feel good.”
It’s an interesting and astute observation by you. I can appreciate that. You see that with certain snowboarders or people who can find this harmony within nature, that is so special. After doing all my homework to get ready for this, I appreciate your strength and courage to do what you’re doing because it’s not easy and it’s so important. I want to start by saluting you for doing something that is valuable for everyone. Thank you.
Thank you, Gabby. I appreciate that.
Let’s dive in. For me, when someone takes something on because it’s almost out of their control, like, “I have to do this.” Your story is one. You had a different job, a real job, and you were taking a professional path. I want you to fill in the blanks here. You found that you had your own health issues and learned about what’s going on in the food business. You decided, “I’m going to leave my grown-up job.”
Coming from an Indian family, this is almost like breaking a cultural expectation. You’re going to do well in school and you’re going to get an amazing job, “What do you mean, you can’t do that anymore?” I would love it if you could take me to the place of, “I’m realizing that what I’m eating is poisoning me on some level and I’m going to do something about it.” A lot of us have these moments and it’s hard to follow or to know how to follow. Maybe you could share part of your journey and how you were feeling and why you decided to pull the ripcord and go for it.
I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina with two immigrant Indian parents. When my dad had an arranged marriage to my mom, he brought her to the United States for the first time ever and said, “If we’re going to live in America, we’re going to eat like Americans.” He’d already been here for a few years going to school.
He introduced my mom to a McDonald’s hamburger and was like, “Here’s what we’re going to be eating now.” My mom had never had beef before in her life. She quickly realized that this diet wasn’t for her and she tried to relearn what her mother was cooking and teach herself the Indian recipes, etc. with a small Indian community that she started to get in Indiana back in the 1960s, in South Carolina where they lived, and then now North Carolina where they live.
It was a situation where my mom did not know how to cook anything American. She knew how to do anything because of what the processed food industry marketed to her. It was Betty Crocker, Hamburger Helper, mozzarella sticks in the freezer, and all of the Salisbury steak microwave dinners, whatever I wanted to eat those other kids on the block were eating.
We were the only Indian family in the probably 50-mile radius of my house. If I wanted to look like, eat like, and do everything around all the people around me, she had to give into this system. She didn’t have the homemade recipes of the past that her grandmother made. It was all curries, gulab jamuns, and all that stuff, which was fantastic and delicious. I thought it was awful growing up because I wanted to fit in. I completely shun my mother’s homemade cooking. She would go to the farmer’s market. She would be shelling her own peach. She’d be doing all of this work.
Every single day, I would see her in the kitchen. I spent no time in the kitchen with her because it was something, first of all, Indian parents didn’t want their children to do because they wanted to learn math and science. It was something that I saw her do but didn’t participate in at all. As soon as I had children, I knew that was going to change big time.
Fast forward to my early 20s, I hit rock bottom. I was working 60, 70, to 80 hours a week working for a big-time consulting firm. I was right out of college. I outsourced my food decisions to this firm that wanted us to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on their accounts so that we would bill hours to the client. We would get things catered in huge bagel breakfast and these giant muffins the size of your head. At lunchtime, it would be a spread of Italian and, of course, there would be tiramisu waiting for you at the end.
At night, it would be a big barbecue and banana pudding. It was insane the amount of food that they were bringing in for all these people to eat. I worked some night shifts because we were converting 27 different bank platforms into one. Back then, when I first started doing this, if you wanted to deposit a check in Georgia and you lived in South Carolina, you couldn’t do that. That was the work that I was doing, making sure people had the ability to do these awesome things that they needed to do with their money.
I’d work in the middle of the night and the only things to eat in the middle of the night are donuts like Krispy Kreme and I was eating them. I hit rock bottom real quick, it took 3 or 4 months. I ended up with appendicitis in the hospital and getting my appendix taken out. At the time, all the literature and everyone said, “Getting your appendix out is not a big deal. You don’t even need it. Why did God put it there?”
Nature puts all kinds of things that we don’t need.
I’m like, “Of course, this is no big deal.” It took me forever to recover from that. I started to do my own research and it spawned this whole new awakening in my body, like, “I never want this situation to ever happen to me again. I never want to feel this bad again when I’m overweight and sick in the hospital when all of my other 20-year-old friends are out partying, having fun, meeting guys, doing all this stuff, and going to fancy parties. I’m sitting here feeling awful.” I decided right then that I was going to do research.
The first thing I researched was my appendix. I found out that your appendix populates your gut with beneficial bacteria. The only reason your appendix would get inflamed is that you’re eating a bunch of junk. I looked at my diet and I was like, “What am I eating? What are the ingredients that I’m eating when I eat a Chick-fil-A sandwich?”
I couldn’t believe my eyes, there are 100 ingredients in a Chick-fil-A sandwich. The second ingredient after the chicken is MSG. I’m researching MSG and I’m finding out that they feed MSG to rats to make them fat in obesity studies so they can study cancer, heart disease, and diabetes in rats. That’s how they make them fat, to begin with. It’s like, “We’re eating this stuff as humans.”
As soon as I started to connect all these dots, I had this insatiable curiosity about everything I was eating. I wanted to know the ingredients. If a company wouldn’t tell me or I couldn’t find out, I would be like the biggest pain in their ass. I would go crazy on them. I would call, I would show up at different chains, and I would ask managers to show me the backs of packages in the background. That’s how I got Chipotle, for example, to finally tell us what’s in their food.
When they had this amazing marketing that said, “Food with Integrity and all this stuff,” I wanted to know if it was food with Integrity. I found out they were using GMOs. I found out they were using inflammatory oils and all sorts of things that aren’t food with integrity. When I called them out, not only did they respond to a blog post that I wrote at the time but they changed their ways and became the first food chain to remove all GMOs from their food, which was incredible. Maybe I’m jumping the gun on the story.
I do want to mention though that when I was reading up on things, I love that you were on the debate. You, naturally, are intelligent. An interesting thing is to feel comfortable questioning and going in. With people, it’s like, “Here she comes again.” It’s to not let that deter you. I often think that’s true. When we go to the doctor, it’s like, “It’s okay if you’re going to roll your eyes, I’m still going to ask you these questions.”
I thought that was something you probably have naturally. It’s an important trait to be willing to be, “Yes, I am here to annoy you until I get an answer that feels fair to what I’m asking for.” I appreciate it. Maybe you could even talk about how you started looking into this and then you decided, “I’m going to start this blog.” Maybe your husband is the hero in this about the name. You had a name I would go for, how to live your best forever longevity. Live longer and healthier. I’d be like, “Yes, that’s so smart.” He’s like, “No.”
I wanted to call the blog EatHealthyLiveForever.com and he’s like, “Are you freaking kidding me? No one is going to remember that. That’s an awful name.” He found Food Babe for $10 on auction about 10 minutes later after this conversation. He yelled it from the other room. We were living in a two-bedroom apartment. I said, “That’s catchy, maybe. Am I the Food Babe? Who’s the Food Baby? What’s the Food Babe?” I said, “Why don’t I teach people how to become a food babe?”
For the first year and a half of my blog, I didn’t even have my picture on there. First of all, I was scared to be on the internet in general. I was of this mindset, maybe it’s my Indian upbringing or whatever, maybe my corporate upbringing too was that I didn’t want my boss to know anything about my personality or my personal life or anything.
I thought I was going to be a partner at this firm. I did not think that I was going to do what I’m doing now. I was never on Facebook. I was never on MySpace and all these different platforms. I was on no social media when everybody else in the world was. I was in this space of like, “I have this passion about sharing what I did to change my life.”
I went from 30 pounds overweight and super sick on nine prescription drugs to zero prescription drugs and being able to maintain my weight with no dieting, just eating real food. The people who worked with me, my friends, and my family in my town of Charlotte were like, “What are you doing? You look totally different than when I saw you when you were growing up.” I wanted to tell them.
Living in a place like Charlotte, sometimes certain places are harder to navigate to eat well. First of all, you’re in your 20s. What medication are you on?
Everything. I was on four different medications to control my asthma, an antihistamine, I had an Albuterol inhaler, and then I had the Advair puff one. I had another antihistamine because the other antihistamine maybe didn’t work so they were going to try two. I was on four total medicines to do that. Not to mention the bouts of prednisone and antibiotics that I would have to take when I would flare up. Back then, they gave you antibiotics every time you did that.
When I started to have struggling problems at work because I was overstressed, overworked, and had a real asshole boss that harassed me, I went to my doctor and was like, “I’m not sleeping. I’m stressed out at work. What should I do?” She didn’t say quit my job. She prescribed Ambien, Xanax, and Cymbalta. Nine prescription drugs later.
How does that feel? It’s one thing, asthma. Let’s say you were a real working person who’s not in the space of health and wellness. You’d say asthma and that makes sense. I go to the doctor and its asthma. When they gave you these other medications, did anything inside of you go, “I don’t know.” Were you like, “It’s a doctor. It’s a white coat. I’ll do what they say.” Did any of that feel uncomfortable to you?
At that point, I was young. I did what they said. I feel stupid about that. We have such an opportunity, Gabby. We have so much information at our fingertips that our parents did not have. The level of experts that you believe and you do not believe has completely been broken up and changed. The level of expert has been completely changed in terms of the definition of an expert and who you should believe and who you shouldn’t believe.
My parents, growing up, were to the book in terms of, “You’re having asthma,” or, “You’re having eczema. Let’s go to the dermatologist. They want to give you a cortisone shot and put you on cortisone cream, another two prescription drugs. Sure.” It’s the doctor telling you to do this. It’s not what we have today.
We’re finally having an awakening moment where people are questioning, “Am I supposed to be experiencing this eczema and asthma? Are there other issues that are the root cause of these situations in my body? Can I explore those in a different way? Maybe there’s a different way other than taking prescription drugs that have a litany of side effects and unknown effects long-term on the human body?”
It is important. It is unfair for them to be hard on themselves. We are at a time now where there’s been enough of this story that I always want to remind people that it is okay to question. If something doesn’t feel right for you or your child, it’s okay. I know you have two children. People might say, “If you don’t want it to get worse or what have you.”
We have a lot of information which makes it more confusing. People have to be careful where they’re getting information from. We have our instincts for a reason and it’s a valuable thing. Also, in a way, the fact that you went through that probably had to happen because you can relate. It’s more powerful because you’re like, “I went through this stuff. I took these things.” Your skin is glowing and you’re healthy. There was something valuable about having to go through that so that you can say to people, “I’ve been through that.” In 2014, you say, “I’m going to do this.”
It was 2011 when I said I would do this. I would start the blog. I secretly did the blog and worked at the same time. I found myself every weekend spending the whole entire weekend, 24 hours of research on Subway, Chipotle, or whoever I wanted to investigate. It slowly was taking over my mind at work. I was sitting there in work meetings thinking about my next investigation and what I wanted to do next.
When Chick-fil-A responded to a post that I had written and wanted me to go fly down to their headquarters and consult with them, I knew then this probably is not the right job for me. I have a bigger calling to change the food industry. Even though they did that and I took off work to go to that meeting, I still didn’t quit my job because I was too scared to tell my parents that I wanted to do this.
Luckily and happily, I was on a Christmas vacation on top of Machu Picchu where you don’t get a lot of cell service. My consulting contract at the bank was coming to an end and they were asking me if I wanted to renew it. I looked over at my husband and we were sitting down for lunch and I said, “I want to do it. I don’t want to say yes. I want to do Food Babe full-time. I want to be a food activist.”
He says, “What have you been waiting for?” Getting that response and not the response that was in my head, “How are we going to pay the mortgage? You bring in half the income.” All these practical things are going in my head that I’ve been programmed to believe. He said the opposite. It was the resounding yes from him that felt so good. He had a job like mine.
When I got back from that job, I remember he went to work and I was alone in our apartment. I was looking around and I could see all the people going down to work because we lived downtown. I was like, “I’m still in my PJs making zero money. What am I going to do?” I suddenly started to research, “What can I do?” I met this incredible, generous, and amazing soul who ended up becoming a good friend of mine and now my business partner at Truvani, Derek Halpern.
[bctt tweet=”We have such an opportunity, Gabby. We have so much information at our fingertips that our parents did not have.”]
He helped me figure out what my audience would love and that I could sell them so that I could support myself. He’s like, “What do people always ask you for?” I’m like, “What I’m eating, my meal plans, and everything.” He’s like, “Why don’t you put that together every week for them and develop that into a program?” I was like, “That’s a great idea. I’ll do that.” This is how little business sense I had about online marketing or anything but I launched it on July 4th weekend, which is probably the worst idiotic idea ever but I did. I launched it on July 4th weekend.
At least it is summer.
It’s an idiotic thing to do but I did that. Even though I did it on probably the worst weekend ever, we had so many people respond that I could not even keep up with the requests. I asked my husband to help me all weekend. On Monday, I said to him, “I can’t do this alone. Look at this, this could be amazing if we both work on it together.” He’s like, “I’ll quit, no problem.” He has not even looked back since that day. It was six months later.
I have to organically pick up the thread, I have to. How was it working with your partner? How do you delegate those roles and deal with putting a firewall between your love life, your parental life together, and your work life? It’s not easy. How do you do that?
We met at work, which helped. We met at work several years before I started Food Babe. We’ve been married for over sixteen years. We were married for quite a while. We worked three different jobs before that. Even though we worked at all these places together, we always had unique skill sets. He was the technical behind-the-scenes guy. I was at the front giving the presentations and doing that stuff.
It worked out well in terms of boundaries because our job lines never cross. What I’m interested in doing is not what he’s interested in doing. It’s this beautiful partnership. I can tell you, I would not be where I am today without his expertise and help, especially Food Babe. I can’t even imagine him not being involved because he’s kept the lights on all the technology behind the scenes.
When I wanted to take on Kraft and Subway and start petitions, all the technology that goes behind sending these signed petitions behind the scenes to these companies and get gathering thousands and thousands of signatures on the website, I had no clue how to build that stuff but he did. He figured it out. It wasn’t what he did for a living but he figured it out so that he could support my mission of what I wanted to do.
What did you do? Did you go to Kraft with 40,000 signatures or something insane like that?
It was 270,000 signatures.
I remember hearing one of them, which was the first one. How do you go with 40,000? No, five times that or six times that. Do you guys have rules or things about, “We’re at home. It’s after 7:00 PM. We’re with the kids.” It’s hard. People don’t realize that when you’re an entrepreneur, it can be seven days a week, it could be 6 to 10. It depends on if there are fires happening or what’s happening. Do you guys have a system in place? Do you just know, like, “We’ve been talking about work too much. We need to connect as a couple or be with our kids.” Do you guys have anything in place?
There have been times when he’ll approach me about a work question or some decision that needs to be made or something. He approaches me when I’m turned off and I’m focused on the kids, I’m focused on making dinner, or I’m focused on something like packing for a trip. He’ll ask me about this and I blow a fuse because I’m like, “I’m not thinking about that right now. I cannot think about that right now. My mind is going in eighteen different directions. I got naked kids running around circles around me.” We’ve been in those situations.
He now knows that when I’m at my desk and when I’m in my office, he also needs to send an email or text message so I have something to refer back to. Otherwise, if he tells me in passing when we’re in the house or he’s coming up from his office and in my office, it’s not working out. He’s learned the hard lesson that way. I’ve also learned the hard lesson that he likes a lot of information. He doesn’t like to deal with quick descriptions of things. He wants the full picture.
He’s dealing with technology. If he makes a page and I’m like, “Can you make the page say this?” I meant something else when you see it on paper. He’s like, “Now I have to go back and redesign it.” I’ve learned too on my approach, which is always fast, I need to sit down and methodically think about things before asking him.
It’s also almost ideas and creativity, meaning practical application. It’s always an interesting intersection. Speaking of petitions, this is an important skill for you to develop in order to do what you were doing. How did you know methodically? It’s like, “I have to go to these companies and make them accountable because that’s how change is going to occur.”
I’d seen this happen in the news at the time. A lady by the name of Bettina Siegal took on pink slime. She started a petition and she got pink slime removed from schools. She ended up getting sued by these pink slime companies, which is awful. She’s a lawyer. She got through it. She’s an incredible person. She had done this. There’s one way to change the food industry and if you write about it, they respond favorably. What about these companies that ignore you and they keep serving you crap?
One great example of this is Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s has served the worst possible products on the market next to Frito-Lay. They’re all sugary cereals marketed towards children with a ton of artificial dyes in them that are linked to hyperactivity in children. There are other questionable preservatives and other things used in their products.
The thing that kills me the most is that they’re marketed toward children. Our children get hooked on these products because they see the different marketing images, the cartoon characters, and the fun colors. They want to eat this stuff. Of course, supermarkets put it on the bottom shelf for all kids to find, see, and be attracted to. I’m noticing this now with my two kids. When I take them to the grocery store, they see Mickey Mouse on a package and they want it. Even though they don’t watch Mickey Mouse that often, they know that’s going to be cool to eat.
A company like Kellogg’s makes me upset because when I petitioned them back in 2015, they said, to get out of the bad press, “Fine, we’re going to remove artificial food dyes. It’s going to take us three years.” I called BS on the three years because they already are making the same cereals overseas without artificial dyes. They already have the recipe, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and they could literally make the same recipe for Americans, their own Americans because they’re an American company.
Not only is this completely unethical and hypocritical but the fact that they said they were going to do this by 2018, they did it. Now it’s 2022 and what have they done instead? They still serve Froot Loops with all of that crap in it but they come up with new cereals like Baby Shark cereal and Unicorn cereal. All of these cereals are more hip to what kids are watching these days to get them hooked on this stuff. It includes the artificial dyes that they said they were going to remove.
If they’re going to create these products from scratch, all of a sudden new, shouldn’t they do them the right way? We have close to 60,000 signatures on that petition. That was one that I was going to deliver but the pandemic happened. No one’s in the office, no one’s traveling, and nothing’s happening. I got pregnant during the pandemic because what are we going to do?
It’s like being in a hurricane. It’s like, “What are we going to do now?”
No. It wasn’t like that. I wanted to have a baby. That happened. Mow I’m reenergized about it, like, “I need to go and deliver these petitions.” I don’t know what else to do. I even joined their quarterly call and asked this question, “What happened? Why didn’t you make this change?”
What did they say?
They didn’t have a good response? It’s a standard answer, completely avoiding the situation.
Maybe we can quickly remind the readers that, in Europe, it’s like, “These are things that we’re going to be careful and precautionary. It’s unknown what they’re going to do to us.” In the US, we’re like, “We don’t know what it’s going to do so it’s okay. Put it in.” That’s pretty standard. Let’s put our counting hats on for a second. They already have the formulas on how to do it right, the recipes that are tested that they already produced. Do we know if the margins are that weirdly different?
They’re not. The margin of the actual ingredient is not. Here’s where they lose money, shelf life.
The ingredient itself isn’t that much more but it’s the shelf life. If you use real paprika and real beta-carotene versus a petroleum-based die, a petroleum-based die will sit on the shelf forever. Paprika and beta-carotene, that’ll break down over time. That’s where they lose the money, the shelf life. That’s how those legacy companies who have retail footprints in every single grocery store across the world maintain their presence. You know this with Laird Superfoods.
Do you know what tocopherol is?
I’ve had more long-hour conversations about why we can’t use tocopherols. To your point, shelf stability, we have a bar that we finished. It’s such an interesting dance of six months and one year because you have real ingredients and all these things. I’m curious. You’re in the battle. When we pick fights, it’s because we have to. Also, maybe there’s something deep inside of us that goes, “People, in the end, maybe they could do the right thing. It couldn’t possibly all be about money.” We wouldn’t be poisoning our children.
Do you think that they’re going to get it or they’re going to hide behind and throw money at food lobbyists and we’re going to stay here? Do you think that something is going to change? Everyone can go, “The FDA lets them make it.” I’ve heard even people I work with that don’t stay at the company say things like, “That’s industry standard.” I’m like, “We know how good that is.” Do you see anything showing up that’s saying, “It’s starting to move in a better direction.” Are people doubling down?
Gabby, going through years of going up against these companies and only making incremental changes at these companies, the industry as a whole has gotten better. People like Papa John’s, for example. I didn’t start a petition against them but wrote about them and they took out all the artificial ingredients. If you look at Papa John’s ingredients versus Domino’s, it’s way better. This is the case, across the board like Panera Bread. There are so many other chains out there.
The reason why I felt the need to start my own company, Truvani, is that I wasn’t making enough progress. I felt like I was going backward. In a way, after I became a mother, I lost some of that rebellious, in-your-face, put-myself-in-a-dangerous-position fearlessness if you will. All of a sudden, I have these two amazing kids to take care of and they’re the next generation. I have such an obligation to them first. When I was taking on the food industry in a big way and I was getting written up in all of these magazines and journals and the front page of newspapers all over the world, people were coming after me hard.
You’re messing with their bottom line.
For example, after getting Subway to remove azodicarbonamide from their bread, they had to change every single one of their chains. They were the number-one fast-food chain in the world at the time and now they’re not even close to that.
Can you explain that ingredient so people know what they were baking and what was happening?
Azodicarbonamide is an ingredient that is used and bred to produce appropriate air bubbles in it so that it’s uniform. For example, they also use it in yoga mats and shoe rubber. When you fold over a yoga mat or see the side of a yoga mat, you see little air bubbles. In shoe rubber, you see little air bubbles evenly dispersed. That’s azodicarbonamide I doing that. They were putting this in the bread to do the same.
When you would go to a Subway, you would be eating the same bread that was in Timbuktu or your backyard. It didn’t matter. They wanted the food to look and taste the same in every single subway. These are the industrial chemicals they would use. The problem with that is when it’s heated, it turns into semi-carboxide, which is considered a cancer risk. Also, when it’s used industrially by workers, it gives them asthma and lung problems.
If you got caught using this in Singapore, you would get fined $450,000. It was banned all over the globe. In the United States, Subway was using it free will. This is an ingredient that took the national stage and put me on the national stage because it was ridiculous that yoga mat chemicals were being put in Subway bread. All of us knew the tagline, “Eat fresh.” That was not fresh.
A lot of money is at hand. The entire azodicarbonamide chemical Industry is gone now. Every single bread manufacturer across America has removed that ingredient almost. I would say there are maybe 1 or 2 brands that I know of that still have it. Every single bread that you would find at the grocery store, Nature’s Own, and all of Bimbo Bakeries, all that stuff had azodicarbonamide in it too. They had to remove it after this campaign. That whole chemical industry is gone.
I had all the paid-for crazy industry people coming after me saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m not a scientist. I’m a bimbo from one of the head honcho front group industry people. Rick Berman, I’m going to frame that article as it was in the Washington Post and put it in my office because I’m so proud of that because this guy is such a dirtbag. This is a guy that goes up against people like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. He’s an evil person. 60 Minutes labeled him as Dr. Evil.
I’ll switch away from this in a second. Do you lose sleep on those days where you’re like, “I’m trying to be a good person. How could they say that about me?” Also, you got an education. You had a career. You opted to take this on. It’s like, “I’m trying to be thoughtful. I’m trying to be informed and do this seriously.” It’s important for people to remember this. Because I say, “You’re a bimbo. You think you’re a scientist.” It’s very easy for people to be dismissive. How do you say, “I’m going to stay in touch with who I know and who I am.” Where did you get that from?
I have to tell you, it was difficult. After my first book came out, it was right after Time Magazine named me one of the most influential people on the internet. It was twenty other individuals and it was people like Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian, people that never thought I would be in the same magazine with compared to in a million years. When the food industry saw that, they went bonkers. They went, “No. We cannot give this girl any credit.”
There was a huge campaign to come after me to the point where they even hoodwinked the New York Times reporter doing a profile piece on me. It’s to the point where she interviewed three industry people all being funded by either the caramel color industry that I was going against in Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes, the caramel coloring. That’s not the caramel color you get from cooking sugar and butter together but it’s made from ammonia. It’s a cancer risk.
There was a person who was taking money directly from bear, which was related to GMO crops. Monsanto also has GMO crops that I was pointing out in all of these foods. Chipotle’s decision to remove all GMOs from their food as a result of what I was writing put me on the map in terms of big and huge chemical corporations paying detractors to come after me online. They developed astroturfing groups. There was a whole Facebook group dedicated to watching everything I did and then commenting negatively about it and being ready to react in the comments. This was being paid for by Monsanto.
You do just decide, “I know what this is. I get it. We’re in warfare. I’m moving on.” Do you indulge, you look at it, and reread it off?”
I did it all. I went completely nuts. I don’t know if you know Gabrielle Bernstein.
She’s an incredible spiritual thought leader. I’m thankful that she’s one of my friends. I called her and I was like, “What do I do? I cannot handle this level of attention, criticism, and comments. I don’t know what to do.” The first thing she said is, “You need to turn off Google Alerts. Anytime someone mentions Food Babe or Vani Hari, you need to turn that off.” That has not been on for over seven years. I don’t even know when I’m written up in the press. I don’t want to know. It doesn’t affect my daily work.
I continue moving towards the mission of informing people about what’s in our food, creating products that I wish to see in the world at Truvani, and that’s what I’m focused on. Also, raising my kids to be the next generation, hardcore knowledgeable kids about food. I want them to know every single ingredient in what they’re eating so they can teach other people. They know and they have this information for the rest of their lives. When I see my daughter ask if something has artificial food dye in it, it’s a beautiful thing to watch to see her through her own brain figure out if it’s something that she wants to eat at a party, at an event, etc.
I keep bringing that up because I want to also remind people that if we’re going to do anything, there are a lot of challenges and sometimes it can be uncomfortable. I don’t think there’s any way around it. I want to slide over to some of the information part of it, the nuts and bolts of eating. I want to remind people you have the Food Babe Way book from 2015. You have Feeding Your Lies, 2019, and Food Babe Kitchen. You do have a book coming out in 2023, which is Food Babe Family. I want to let people know.
Let’s talk about food for a second because people always talk to me. I know that people are stressed out. There’s always the economics to think about it. We have to be aware of that. If someone says, “I’m going to go to the market. What should I look out for?” In your mind. I know people are asking you this all the time. What is it that you would armor people with going to the store to say, “Try to keep this stuff out of your house.” Let’s make it simpler, “This is the only stuff you should put in your house.”
Anything that comes out of a package, keeping it to the perimeter of the grocery store, whole real foods, beans, nuts, seeds, great oils like coconut oil and olive oil, grass-fed butter to cook with, meats, and cheeses. Everything is up for grabs in terms of that as long as it’s raised in a way that you want to consume that meat. You don’t want to be consuming meat that’s been raised on a factory farm with antibiotics and growth hormones.
You want to eat meat that’s been grass-fed their whole life or is raised in a pasture when it comes to chickens. You can eat a fantastic diet that way eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, and raw cheeses. I love raw cheeses, those are readily available everywhere now. Also, cooking with great oils like that. You can beat out 90% of the pitfalls in a grocery store by eating that way.
Here’s the caveat, it takes a lot of preparation. It takes a lot of planning and meal prep. In terms of planning ahead, knowing what you’re going to cook, and having the ingredients in your house is half the battle. Once you have those ingredients, it’s pretty easy to put together recipes that are fast and easy to make.
I don’t make anything that takes a long time because I don’t have the time to do it. I have my standard list of things that I go to and that’s what we do and the kids love it. I make different vegetables every day to keep them interesting. It’s what I do in the Food Babe kitchen if anybody wants to go and read that book and see the recipes. In Food Babe Family that’s going to be coming out, it’s going to be about how I navigate the world that we live in. We live in an interesting place. I would say that 99% of the people that live in America don’t eat like I do or maybe like you either, Gabby.
It’s a setup between every people being medicated and not feeling great and then having their microbiome all out of whack because of these medicines. I sometimes feel that the worst we feel, the more we’re apt to grab these foods on top of it. It’s a heavy-duty setup that when people go, “It’s not my fault.”
The old me, 15 or 20 years ago, would have been like, “Of course, it’s your fault.” The more I’ve paid attention to the way it is set up, it’s like, “You have to work hard not to live in that.” I honor that it’s a struggle. By no means are we sitting here saying that this is easy but the whole point is how do we make this a priority? It’s hard. It’s important. What’s the alternative?
You talk a lot about inflammatory oils. I say this ad nauseam. The other tricky thing is about encouraging trying to make your own salad dressing. Is it as exciting? It isn’t. Maybe Primal Kitchen and a few others. It’s pretty scary. Someone’s sitting there and they go, “I’m young, I’m single, I’m busy,” or all the above, “I microwave my food.” I don’t own a microwave. Is there anything on the market that you could microwave that is not going to crush your health? Is it like, “Forget it?” I don’t know. It’s a genuine question.
I don’t put anything in a microwave to eat.
Is there a brand? Is there something? The other thing I always worry about is there’s no nutrition in it. Even if maybe the ingredients were here or there, is there any nutrition any longer in this food product, any minerals, any enzymes, anything?
It depends on the ingredients. I haven’t looked at the frozen food space in terms of what they’ve created. There are these new innovative products. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but Hugh Kitchen developed Snow Days. They’re little pizza bites, they’re grain free and they’re organic. I have to tell you, they taste processed. You stick them in the oven, you warm them up, you can microwave them, or whatever. They don’t taste great. There might be great ingredients but they don’t taste great.
You’re saying make it.
For someone who’s super busy and needs a quick meal, I am all for smoothies. I love a smoothie a day. For my smoothie, every single day at lunch, I find that lunch is the best time for me to do a smoothie because I can keep working and I can bust everything out before the kids get home from school and the whole thing.
My one child gets home from school but the other one is napping so it’s like this balance. How much can I get done in that time? Every day, I do Truvani protein plus greens and Truvani collagen, which is marine collagen. I don’t eat any beef products so that’s why we developed that. I put in a ton of different greens that I’m growing in my vegetable garden. Whatever is growing, I throw it in there.
Also, celery, cucumber, a huge chunk of ginger that’s spicy, fresh lemon juice from a freshly squeezed lemon, and either a green apple, a pear, or a banana. Whatever fruit berries, one serving of fruit. I blend it up and it’s delicious and it’s the best fast food. It takes me less than 10 minutes, maybe even 7 minutes, to make and wash everything and get it in there and blend it and even clean the blender. Seven minutes, you can’t beat that, that’s faster than a McDonald’s drive-thru.
Like everything, there’s a learning curve. The more you do this stuff, even prep food at home or all of it, you get better and more efficient. I like that you have fibers in there because I’m always trying to encourage people to make sure they’re getting that fiber and those best ingredients. What if somebody is traveling? I know that you have navigated how to get it down on the road. That is the kicker, that’s the one that gets you.
Traveling will take you off your routine. You’ll be exposed to all sorts of foods that you don’t normally eat at home. You can gain weight quickly. You can also feel bad eating food that’s over-salted, etc. I used to travel with a little cooler and I would either take it on board with me or check it. It was totally fine. I would put in frozen soups and salads. Especially if I was going for a three-day work trip, I would have enough in there to last at least one meal a day. Maybe I would go eat out some of the meals but I would find the places that specialize in plant-heavy meals.
When I was traveling to Detroit, I’d never thought about vegan or even known about the vegan culture at all until I started going to Detroit for work and found all of these amazing vegan restaurants that were plant-heavy so I can eat super clean and healthy. Even though I wasn’t vegan, I went to all these places and was able to eat healthy, awesome vegetables. I would have meat if I went to a different place, back home, or whatever but I didn’t have to worry about factory-farmed meat or eating some processed meat someplace. I would go to these vegan places and it was delicious. I found my little joints.
On top of that, I would go there for dinner one night but I’d say, “Can I order this dish too?” I’m going to eat that for lunch out of the office fridge the next day. Breakfast was always easy for me because it was fruit. I would take these little organic oat baggies that I would make in little zip locks and I’d throw protein powder on top. I would put hot water on it, stir it up in a little Starbucks cup in my hotel room, and then put fruit on there. It was breakfast on the go. I was eating relatively healthy having these hacks.
What’s funny is, back in the day, when I had to have coffee on the road, I never liked the coffee at the hotel because it wasn’t organic. I found this instant organic coffee brand that tasted good and I would carry it with me. I had my little hot water heater. It’s probably half a liter or something. I would plug it into my hotel room, I would heat up my water, and I would pour it in there. I would travel with organic coconut milk powder like Laird Superfood creamer and stir that in there. It was delicious. It was frothy and so good.
I even filmed a video on this, you can find it on YouTube. My little travel coffee hack is what I call it. If you google Food Babe travel coffee hack, this is what I did on the road before Laird Superfood. I would make my own little concoction in the hotel rooms. I was having organic coconut milk-based coffee as opposed to this hotel coffee that was ridden with pesticides.
I want to say that someone could read this and go, “That sounds complicated.” It’s simply that you’ve made the choice that this is important. Once we decide the things that we’re eating, it’s valuable to pay attention to that. You can find a way. I wanted you to share that. Let’s say someone goes to a business meeting and they have to go out to dinner, do you ask any specific questions? I’d have to say that I do find it amusing that you found the best vegan-ism situation in Detroit but that’s for another time. You went to Detroit.
It’s in the most unlikely places but they have an amazing scene there.
It’s beat down. It’s sprouting in this new way, that’s why. I thought that was funny. Let’s say you’re sitting in Chicago and you’re meeting about something, is there anything you’re going to ask the server as an educational cue to somebody?
Before I order a chicken at any place, I ask what’s the farm? Now that we have our phones, I can google the farm in two seconds. I love barbecue. There’s a barbecue within walking distance from my place. I go in there and I ask them where they get their barbecue from, Smithfield. I’m like, “Goodness.” Based on my research, Smithfield is raising pork here in North Carolina. Do you know where they go when they process it? They take the pork and send it to China to process and add a bunch of awful ingredients and chemicals and then send it back. These pigs are treated horribly, it’s awful.
How can that be more cost-effective?
It is more cost-effective to process meat in China, it’s insane. I knew when they told me Smithfield, I’m like, “Nope. I’m not going to eat here. Sorry. I don’t care if it’s within walking distance.” Knowing that, I can’t do it. It’s my mission to teach people and tell people where their ingredients come from and educate people about good products by producing awesome ones at Truvani. I hope people get to the point where they’re like, “I know so much information about this. I’m going to make a good decision because I don’t want to eat that.”
I know this gets people. Natural flavors, what does that mean?
It’s funny when you asked earlier, “What should people avoid in the grocery store?” What should people eat instead. You mentioned inflammatory oils. Inflammatory oils, avoid that at the grocery store. You would get rid of 85% of the products in the mid-section of the grocery store by removing corn, soy, and canola oil from your diet. They’re messing with our ability to protect ourselves from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and every disease known to modern man.
Natural flavor is what keeps us hooked on processed foods. These are engineered chemicals and flavors that are the 1 millionth best part of a taste that our bodies love to consume. They are hacking into our brains and figuring out what makes those triggers go off. Those receptors in your brain that create cravings, they’re creating chemicals based on that. The same scientists that created addiction and tobacco are the same scientists that are working in Kraft, Kellogg’s, and other places now to create these products and are working at these chemical factories to create these flavors that are addictive.
For me, I don’t want my taste buds to be hijacked by anybody. When I eat food, I want to be the real food. I want to know what it’s supposed to taste like. When I eat a cookie, I want it to taste like a cookie. I don’t want this hyper flavor in my mouth lingering so I’m thinking about that cookie and eating another and another. I want to stop when I’m satiated and the only way our bodies can naturally do that is for them not to be hijacked by these chemical-made laboratory chemicals.
I saw a 60 Minutes interview and you probably saw it years ago where they were interviewing this scientist and they said, “Let’s get this straight, you create something. There are 30 types of strawberry flavor and it hits your palate ten times stronger than it ever could be in nature and it disappears. in what way does that not lend itself to overeating?” The guy’s like, “I don’t see the correlation.” You know the expression, you can’t just eat one. You’re right, it’s a real thing.
For a lot of especially busy and crazy moms running around, they go, “It says natural flavors.” I want to remind them artificial and natural are not so wildly different. Vani, I appreciate the work that you’re doing because I know it’s not easy. I know that you’ve had to take a lot of heat for it. It is also part of the change.
There are people in all fields that are saying exactly the same things. I talked to a GI specialist, a psychotherapist from Harvard, and a scientist. You guys are all on the same page so I do feel like there is this organic movement. It does make me feel hopeful. Before we go, if you have an invitation that you would like to give to my readers or leave them with any food for thought, I’d like you to do that, or if I’ve missed something that feels important to you.
There’s this three-question detox that I mentioned at the end of my book, Feeding You Lies, and it’s critical for people to recognize. It’s easy to eat well when you ask yourself these three questions. The first question is, what are the ingredients? You got to know what you’re eating. You need to find out if you don’t know. You then need to ask yourself, “Are these ingredients nutritious?” You can quickly understand if they are or not.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. You don’t have to be a nutritionist. You can look and see if the ingredient, an apple, is nutritious. Of course, it is. Is it these apple chips that have natural flavor added to them? Is natural flavor nutritious? No. There’s nothing in natural flavor that’s improving my nutrition in the human body.
The third question is, where do these ingredients come from? That’s a question that will let you deeply explore where your food is coming from. Is it a conventional strawberry grown with pesticides? Is that something you want to buy? Maybe you want to try the organic strawberry because it’s one of the dirty dozen crops that are the highest sprayed with herbicide.
Do you want to look at the meat that you’re buying and where that comes from and how those animals are treated and what kind of drugs those animals are given? Is that something that you want in your body? If you ask yourself these three questions, every time you sit down for a meal or you choose a meal, you will make better decisions because you’re asking yourself all the important things that matter to what you put in your body.
Can you remind people of all of the places where they can find you? I want to remind people too that you share a ton of free recipes and things on your social media. It’s not just all that stuff is in your books. You give away a ton of it and give some inspiration and great suggestions. Remind people of the places they can connect with you.
You can come on over to FoodBabe.com and see everything we’re doing there like all the investigations and all the information. There are tons of free information there as well. On Instagram, @TheFoodBabe. Check out my product company, Truvani. We have organic protein powders, amazing bars, and supplements. We have worked hard to remove all of the unnecessary chemicals that are created or have been added to supplements over the years. We’ve created supplements without them because a lot of these chemicals don’t deserve to be in your body.
I love people who are putting energy into doing supplements and then it’s filled with other weird stuff. It’s crazy. People can go to the website. If they want to participate or also become part of this fight that you’re in and a mission to make people more accountable and food companies more accountable, they can get that information there.
Vani Hari, thank you for your time.
Thank you too, Gabby. It was a pleasure. It was a highlight of my week. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for reading this episode. Stay tuned for a bonus episode where I go deeper into one of the topics that resonated with me. If you have any questions for my guests or even myself, please send them to @GabbyReece on Instagram. If you feel inspired, please hit the follow button, and leave a rating and a comment, it not only helps me, it helps the show grow and reach new readers.
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About Vani Hari
Vani started FoodBabe.com in April 2011 to spread information about what is really in the American food supply. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. Impassioned by knowing how food affects health, Vani loves sharing her message on the blogosphere to a large population of readers across the globe. After receiving tremendous attention on her posts about Chick-Fil-A, she was invited by the company’s leadership to meet at its headquarters to consult on specific improvements to ingredients used by the national chain. Other major food companies that have responded to her writings include Kraft, Whole Foods, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, Yoforia, and Moe’s South West Grill.