Q&A with Vani Hari, The Food Babe
BY NEERA CHAUDHARY
She lit the foodie world on fire with her public plea for Kraft to remove the orange dye from their mac ‘n’ cheese dinners. We chatted with this formidable food warrior Vani Hari about organic living and battling the food lobbyists.
Neera Chaudhary: What sparked your interest and passion for food and living organically?
Vani Hari: Right after college, I started working for a top consulting firm. I travelled Sunday through Friday and worked crazy hours in addition to all that travel. This left little to no time to truly take care of myself (or so I thought) and my health quickly deteriorated. Because of the long work hours and pressing deadlines for a huge merger of banks, my sleep schedule, my body’s natural rhythm, and my eating times went totally out of whack. Within two to three months, I gained more than 20 pounds, a heavy number within a short period of time, considering my frame and build. Every day, three meals and snacks were catered from some of the most extravagant restaurants, so my co-workers and I could eat quickly and get back to work. I remember spreads of foods like chicken parmesan, pasta, BBQ, and late-night donuts. I ate all of the food that was provided because I wanted to fit in, not thinking I had a choice of what I was putting in my mouth.
When my project finally ended in December, I got an assignment in Charlotte, where I didn’t have to travel. It was wonderful getting a break from travelling and the late nights but my poor eating still continued, as I was addicted to all that chemically derived food.
One night, I felt a sharp, intense pain in my stomach. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I discovered my appendix was going to burst and I needed to have surgery immediately to have it removed. Since that day, my life has been changed forever. They say having appendicitis is random, but I think that is just not true. I know my lifestyle of high stress and poor nutrition caused this horrible thing to happen to my body. So that’s where my quest for knowledge and my journey began... and now I’m Food Babe.
NC: In the current environment, what food issues do you think are of most concern?
VH: The amount of chemical food-like substances put into our foods and the pesticides sprayed on crops.
NC: If you had to pick only one of the most harmful ingredients in processed foods, what would that one ingredient be?
VH: MSG. It’s in everything and hidden into processed foods by varying names like yeast extract and autolyzed yeast. These excitotoxins are some of the chemicals that cause your taste buds to experience irresistibility when it comes to food and make you addicted to processed junk. Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one chip or one cookie? Or why you remember the taste of a product so distinctly and crave it uncontrollably? Excitotoxins can be to blame.
NC: How do you think politics affect our food supply?
VH: The same way politics affect a lot of decisions made — heavily influenced by big business and lobbyists.
NC: Which foods do you think are the most important when considering organic? Why?
VH: I think all produce should be purchased organic when possible. If the item is not available organically fresh, try the freezer section. This may seem a bit extreme, but even produce that isn’t highly sprayed and grown under ground like carrots can have up to 26 different pesticides on them — 16 of them are hormone disruptors, eight are carcinogens, seven are reproductive toxins and three are neurotoxins.
NC: What are your thoughts on vegetarianism and veganism?
VH: I am an intuitive eater and don’t believe in defining the way I eat by a specific stereotypical label. I eat what I know makes me feel good and full of energy. I live a plant-based, unprocessed food lifestyle, where the majority of my foods are the most nutrien-dense foods on the planet.
NC: Why is there such a fight brewing over genetically modified foods (GMOs)?
VH: I sought the truth about GMO labelling from the leaders of our country at the Democratic National Convention as a delegate and was completely appalled at what I discovered. In the U.S., our food is missing a very important label — one that President Obama, the FDA and the USDA have made a concerted effort to deny us from having. This label is for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are in 90 per cent of our processed food. GMOs are foods biologically manufactured in laboratories — injected with new DNA, viruses, herbicides, insecticides and/or other chemicals — to be resistant to synthetic chemicals and are completely different than hybridizing techniques allowed by nature. These foods have only been in our food supply since 1996 and long-term health impacts were not conducted before they were approved. GMOs receive patents by the U.S. Patent Office because they have been deemed to be unique and different. Over 64 countries around the world require GMOs to be labelled or regulated. The U.S. does not. This is one of the most un-American policies that exists. We have the right to know what’s in our food just like people in countries like China and Russia do — especially when studies have linked GMOs to a wide variety of diseases like infertility and cancer.
NC: There is so much talk about the possible connection between food dyes and ADHD. What other food additives are ones to look out for that may have negative health impacts?
VH: Almost all food additives, unless they are real food, have some health consequence in an accumulative effect. Food companies are developing food-like substances made from chemicals that are cheap that provide zero nutritional value but fill us up. Fake foods do nothing for our health and in a lot of cases cause quite a lot of harm.
NC: Tell us about the battle you took on with Kraft.
VH: I recently discovered that several American food companies are using harmful additives that are not used — and in some cases banned — in other countries. One of those products is an iconic staple that almost every American, me included, has had at one time or another: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I found it hypocritical that Kraft was selling mac and cheese overseas with natural dyes paprika and beta carotene (real food) and meanwhile, here they were selling petroleum-based food dyes (yellow #5 and yellow #6 linked to a myriad of health issues) to their fellow Americans. This double standard made me so angry, I started a petition.
NC: In your opinion, which countries do the best when it comes to providing a safe food supply?
VH: Bhutan, which grows produce 100 per cent organically for its citizens and for neighbouring countries.
NC: What is your favourite food tip when people ask you for food advice?
VH: Start your day with warm lemon water and cayenne pepper. I love hearing how good people feel once they start this ritual. I’m developing an eating guide to share with readers on my site and this habit is an essential step. Doing this one small habit every morning provides a super stimulant to the liver, your main detoxing organ in the body. Your liver will release uric acid and create bile to safely eliminate environmental and lifestyle toxins that would otherwise be trapped in your digestive system longer. Keeping your liver and digestive system clean and in optimal condition will help your body prevent diseases like cancer in the future. Combining cayenne with lemon increases the detoxing effect and raises the temperature of your body, increasing your metabolism. Drinking this combination will cleanse your body every single day safely and naturally. I plan to do it for the rest of my life.
NC: If there was one food you could eat forever, what would it be?
VH: Kale. It is a superfood ingredient that has completely transformed my health and my life and the one food I added to my diet that got me in tip top shape and beautiful for my wedding day (and ever since). Wearing a lehenga and exposing your midsection in front of all your friends and family is no joke.
Follow her blog at www.foodbabe.com.
PUBLISHED IN THE HEALTH & WELLNESS ISSUE, SUMMER 2013
Be UNIQUE. Be ANOKHI.