You may know Vani Hari as the food industry's whistleblower. The blogger and consumer activist also known as the Food Babe has launched campaigns asking fast food chains like Subway and Chick-fil-A, and companies like Kraft and Anheuser-Busch to remove potentially harmful ingredients from their products. Hari may be the most influential consumer activist in the country, and she says her GMO-free, clean eating lifestyle has led her to be in the best health of her life. Now, Hari has written a book called "The Food Babe Way: Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days," which includes a 21-day plan to good health. We talked to Hari about her plan and how she feels about her accomplishments as an activist.
Lots of people read your blog, but the 21-day plan in the book is new. Can you tell me more?
The book discusses the 21 habits I personally follow to live a healthy lifestyle and help someone navigate this over-processed world.
Your name “Vani” means voice in Hindi and you say you feel like you’re giving a voice to whom?
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To everyone who wants a better, healthier and safer food system. I want to give a voice to the people who feel fed up with the situation they’re in. I want to show them they can choose to question the food industry and improve their own lives and health. They have the power to do this; they don’t have to be an expert or scientist or nutritionist. They can do it themselves.
What made you decide that your way was the way to health?
I didn’t know that at first. It was through trial and error and I did try many of the different diets out there – not to just lose the weight I gained, but to get healthier, and what I realized quickly is that the most important thing you have to pay attention to is the ingredients in food. It provides nutrition info, vitamins and minerals and you don’t have to worry about the calories or the fat grams or sugar grams. Y ou don’t have to worry about going low carb or gluten-free if you pay attention to the ingredients and make sure they’re the most nutritious and unadulterated ingredients available. Then you set yourself up for success.
The food industry - they’ve inundated products with chemicals and additives that are very controversial that are banned in other countries. Most additives are guilty till proven innocent in other countries, here in the U.S. we allow the food industry to inundate our foods with additives without much regulation. Now the FDA admits there are over 10,000 food additives used in the U.S., but they’re not capable of doing what the public reasonably expects of them. They admit that they don’t know the amount of food chemicals American public is exposed to as well.
You’ve courted a lot of controversy and plenty of detractors. Why do you think people want to tear you down?
You have to look at who the detractors are. Who are the critics?
They’re people who are dependent on the system we have today. They developed the chemicals the food industry use or they’re developing genetically engineered seeds or technology that biotechnology companies invest in and they don’t like my message when I say GMOs should be labeled. One example is the yoga mat chemical - they say it's safe, but what they’re ignoring is that most countries have banned the chemical because it's seen as an asthmatic trigger. They ignore this information and ignore the fact that the CSPI and the Environmental Working Group who have supported my campaign and asked the FDA to ban the chemical.
Most of my critics are pro-chemical, pro-Monsanto, pro-GMO and I’m pro-consumer. When they say we have no right to talk because we’re not scientists or chemists, they’re saying the average person doesn’t have the power to know what’s in their food and I think that’s wrong. I think it’s the American public’s duty to understand what’s in their food and ingredients.
How does it feel for you to have started your blog as a hobby and get to where you are now?
It just goes to show you there are a lot of concerned people out there who care about their food. My blog was a hobby that turned into my career. I’ve become an accidental activist if you will, but what I realized through my blogging is, not only did my friends and family need to know this information, but there were so many people who had been duped.
Sharing my experiences and knowledge really inspired other people to ask questions to everyone from Chick-fil-A to Kraft, General Mills, Chipotle, Anheuser-Busch, and Starbucks - Those companies have either changed ingredients or increased their transparency as a result of everyday people like myself asking questions. I am excited to be part of a movement where now if you start to ask questions, companies respond favorably and have to change.
What was your greatest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment isn’t changing a specific company, but what I helped inspire in my own family. My older brother, he of course, like most older brothers, didn't want to listen to his younger sister. I’m sure they were tired of me talking about all the things I was discovering about food, so I said I’ll just blog so they don’t have to hear me all the time and they‘ll read the information. Not only did he start reading - after he started reading the blog, he lost weight and looks healthier and better than I've ever seen him and has experienced a level of health he never thought was possible. We both grew up with a lot of health issues and I thought they were genetic. I never knew it as related to the way I was treating my body and when I made those changes and got of prescription drugs he was very skeptical, but he slowly started changing things and he started to feel so much better and really that’s my biggest accomplishment because he's my brother and I love him so much.
What advice do you have for people who don't have access to organic grocery stores?
Fortunately, there’s a whole chapter about changing where you shop in my book - try farmers' markets and growing your food, but also online, there’s a slew of new places where you can buy your staples - your organic nuts, seeds, beans and staples you have in your house - online and at a discount. There are some companies online that are really inspiring change so people can have access to the food and it gets shipped to your house. I use those services still and I hope other people can learn about them because I think it can really impact their access to these foods.
You give a lot of advice on your favorite products. How do you find your information?
I go to the Natural Foods Expo every year. I meet the founders and CEOs behind the companies and sometimes go to their factories and go and find out more about how they produce these foods and what the latest health products out there are. There are also sources - books and literature about nutrition - that I really trust and that’s where I find my information.
You talk a lot about how you used to have health issues before you changed your lifestyle. What were they?
Eczema all over my face and in every crease of my body, asthma, I was on several prescription drugs just to control the inflammation and I had really severe allergies and stomach issues. The health crisis moment was when I got appendicitis and endometriosis shortly after.
What’s the feedback you’ve gotten on the plan?
It’s been amazing. Not only has it continued to be a New York Times bestseller five weeks in a row, but the changes that are happening with individual people is inspiring to watch. I asked people to start sharing what’s changing their food and watching and hearing the results has been so inspiring. Once people eat a less processed diet, their whole life changes. People look better and feel better. They get off prescription drugs, depression medication and mental anxiety goes away, so the feedback has been amazing. That’s why I developed those 21 habits - they’re the ones that have allowed me to live in this world and really feel at the top of my game and feel really good healthwise.
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