Vani Hari

Update: Yvette d’Entremont has been receiving death threats for her public criticism of Vani Hari’s claims.

By now, you’ve likely encountered the extreme doctrine of Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe. Subway definitely did. She and her army attacked the chain tirelessly until they finally eliminated a particular chemical, azodicarbonamide, from their bread. It didn’t take much to get her ever-loyal followers behind her on this because, well, the name sounds scary and more importantly, the dough conditioner happens to also be used in yoga mats (although it’s not considered toxic by the FDA when used in concentrations below 45 parts per million). And Hari has deemed more than 610 products and companies to be unsafe in a span of four years. This is the power of Food Babe: She can call sugar-laden eats “toxic” and suddenly a mass of people will shun them.

Except Yvette d’Entremont, now primarily known as her skeptical alter ego: Science Babe. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, an MS in forensic science, and has worked as a toxicology chemist as well as a researcher analyzing pesticides for safety. And by using her knowledge, she has been able to challenge some of Hari’s core pseudoscientific claims.

“Don’t mess with pumpkin spice”

D’Entremont now runs the blog full-time. But it all started when Food Babe had the gall to launch a campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. That, for d’Entremont — who grew up in the Bay State and now lives in L.A. — felt like a personal hit. “Don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything,” she said in her recent Gawker article.

 “Don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything.”

In this investigation, Hari maintains that the beloved fall beverage contains a “toxic” dose of sugar and two doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b. But as d’Entremont points out, the word “toxic” suggests that it has “the effect of a poison,” and anything can be poisonous in the wrong dose — even water. So, she was well prepared to state her counter argument when Hari’s PSL takedown came out. On Gawker, d’Entremont wrote:

Yvette d’Entremont

“It’s a goddamn stretch to say that sugar has deleterious effects, other than making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don’t ‘namaste’ your cheeks off. However, I implore you to look at the Safety Data Sheet for sugar. The average adult would need to ingest about fifty PSLs in one sitting to get a lethal dose of sugar. By that point, you would already have hyponatremia from an overdose of water in the lattes. And almost enough caffeine for me.”

She also added that it’s unfair to call out the “carcinogenic” caramel color when coffee also happens to be considered a class 2b carcinogen, due to the acrylamide accumulated during the roasting process. In other words, it’s easier than one thinks to make foods sound menacing.

“But wait, didn’t she say that the Pumpkin Spice Lattes had a toxic dose of sugar at fifty grams in a grande? So why does she endorse Suja when it has forty-two grams of sugar and even comes with a warning on its website that it’s not suitable for diabetics?” added d’Entremont in her Gawker piece.

After she defended her favorite seasonal latte, Science Babe continued to grow. In an interview earlier this year, d’Entremont said that she garnered 1,000 followers within 48 hours of launching the site. Now, she’s amassed more than 57,000 likes on Facebook.

Dissecting the allegations

But beyond the PSL, d’Entremont has taken on the task of disputing other Food Babe claims. Like this statement: “The enzymes released from kale go in to your liver and trigger cancer fighting chemicals that literally dissolve unhealthy cells throughout your body.” She also had a counter-argument for Hari’s issues with Girl Scout Cookies (GMOs and pesticides). As d’Entremont explains, a genetically modified crop has to be proven to be nutritionally indistinguishable from their non-GMO counterparts before its introduced into our food supply. Hari has also claimed that a non-organic apple can be worse for you than a hot fudge sundae, but d’Entremont noted that organic farming uses pesticides too, and some of them are actually far more toxic than conventional pesticides. (Still, she assures readers that neither apple would have enough pesticide to be harmful by the time you’re eating it).

“The difference between organic and conventional? For a product that’s no healthier, organic is more expensive and they give Hari a commission,” wrote d’Entremont.

These are just a few of the issues that d’Entremont takes with Hari’s extremism. And ultimately, her frustration with Food Babe allowed her to focus on a larger issue at hand — the fact that it’s easy to fall victim to potentially false claims when we’re not informed (after all, not all of us are chemistry majors). So, she’s currently working with a literary agent on a book: “Science Babe’s Guide to BS Detection.”

In it, d’Entremont will be touching on a variety of subjects in the book, like the truth about natural cancer treatments, and the anti?vaccine movement.

“The biggest thing of it is how to make people’s BS detector a little stronger,” she told the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “Because the number of times people email me in the course of a day and say, ‘Is this bullshit?’ and it’s stuff that to me is very blatantly bullshit! I think getting people trained to know how to detect it before it pops up, and using the scientific method a little bit, would be a wonderful thing for the skeptic movement to have as a goal. That’s something I see happening in the future.”

Featured image of Vani Hari “Vani Hari from Charlotte Video Project” by Charlotte Video Project – Cropped screen capture from YouTube. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: We have reached out to Hari for a comment, and will update this article if/when we receive a response.