May 5, 2015

The Flavor of Fear: Why We Must Balance the Scales with Science & Compassion


A war is raging on the ‘net: Well-intentioned folks who want the best for themselves and their families are being duped by fear-mongers who toot the horn of why you need to rid yourself of toxins and stay away from chemicals at all costs.

Sounds right at first glance—but we live in a chemical world. And we are a chemical world unto ourselves. Our bodies are literally made of stardust. Chemicals which account for 93 percent of our body mass. More specifically, 60 percent of our bodies are made of the chemical dihydrogen monoxide, more commonly referred to as water. We are made of chemicals, and everything we eat whether it’s a banana or a bag of Cheetos is made of chemicals, too.

And when it comes to toxins, we have an incredible system that unless you have a serious medical condition, your kidneys, liver, respiratory system, intestines, lymph and skin are working 24-7 to remove your toxins. Your detox system runs on autopilot.

Yoga, drinking plenty of water, and eating whole unprocessed foods helps improve the functioning of our body, but using the term “detox” has a specific connotation and is a red flag to stay away from any supposed food gurus who use it.

One of the most popular examples of this is Vani Hari who goes by the moniker “Food Babe.” Gawker recently ran a piece by Yvette d’Entremont (also know as SciBabe), not-so-subtly entitled, “The “Food Babe” Blogger Is Full of Shit.”

The article quickly went viral and has been viewed over four million times so far at Gawker.

Why such popularity? Because Vani Hari is profiting from a fear-based approach which is frequently at odds with science. She’ll take an ingredient such as castoreum which in its most expensive form comes from a beaver’s behind (see Do You Eat Beaver Butt?) but in food supply actually comes from vanilla planifolia orchids. To get more clicks, Hari would like to make you think just as you’re about to take a lick from your favorite ice cream cone that maybe, just maybe you might be licking something that came from a beaver’s behind.

This form of fear-based marketing isn’t limited to Food Babe. Many mini-food babes are popping up with their own special flavor of fear. Just this week, another food blogger posted on her Facebook page, “If you’re trying to lose weight and you’re still eating yogurt…please stop.”

Her beef with dairy was that 75 percent of folks are lactose intolerant (the official stats are actually closer to 60-65 percent) and therefore it supposedly led to digestive issues.

But this is simply not backed up by science. The beautiful thing about yogurt is that it has auto-digestive properties which makes it safe for most of those who are lactose intolerant. If you are lactose intolerant, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cut out dairy completely.

Mark Thomas, an evolutionary biologist geneticist has termed what he calls the “fermentation ladder” that starts with yogurt and ends with hard cheeses where lactose is virtually non-existent.

“If you’re at a party and someone says, ‘Oh, I can’t eat that—I’m lactose intolerant,’ ” Thomas said, “you can tell them to shut up and eat the Parmigiano.”

When it comes to GMOs, 88 percent of scientists believe that they are generally safe. Mark Lynas, an activist who was once opposed to GMOs changed his position after being on the ground in Africa and seeing how scientific advances were saving thousands, if not millions of lives. “I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on G.M.O.s.”

There are certainly risks in creating GMOs, but with strict regulation and rigorous testing, they can be screened completely before they are available for public consumption. If you’ve heard of the famous Serallini study with the rats that developed tumors after ingesting GMOs that study was eventually retracted and dubbed the “Séralini affair” due to its poor experimental controls and an outcry from the scientific community. Other publicly funded long-term studies, did not find health issues.

Do corporate research scientists manipulate consumers by designing foods that are more addictive? Yes, absolutely as this excellent piece by Michael Moss in the New York Times illustrates so clearly.

But let us have a conversation about what actually works.

And what doesn’t.

Instead of fear being the driver of the conversation, let’s start with the principle of compassion. A place where there’s space for us all to learn and grow. The conversation around food safety is so emotionally charged that many of us have closed off our minds and hearts. The truth is, if you can’t change you’re mind, you’re not using it. To have understanding we must consider all sides—and in order to consider it, we must raise our level of scientific literacy to move forward.

“The principle of compassion is that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. This is the basic love, the charity, that turns a critic into a human being who has something to give to—as well as to demand of—the world.” ~ Joseph Campbell

If we can enter conversations on food, with an open mind and heart, and compassion instead of fear, we will get much further along in our desire to make this a safer place for us, our children, and for the care taking of the planet that we live in.





Is it Gluten Intolerance or are We Being Poisoned?


Author: Kristi Kremers

Editor: Renée Picard 

Image: elephant archives 

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