Published on September 9th, 2014 | by Rayne11
Operating like the Food Babe: Product referrals, inconsistencies in data and bad science
The more I do research into how Food Babe operates, the more intrigued I become. My first post into the phenomenon that is the Food Babe spoke about some of the tactics I have seen by glancing at her Facebook page and debunking her post on Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte. My second post spoke about the Food Babe as a religion. Today’s post will look into how the Food Babe brand reels in customers and keeps them coming back for more.
The Food Babe formula is quite simple:
1. Use alarmist Appeals to Nature to scare people into thinking your food of choice is toxic.
2. Create an environment of distrust and fear against “big corporations” and promote the idea they are only concerned with making a profit.
3. Remind your followers you are only trying to help by doing research for them.
4. Create an environment of distrust and fear against doctors.
5. Make fear promoting claims with scientific sounding evidence so your scientifically illiterate followers don’t feel the need to conduct further research.
6. When your followers are scared and confused about what to eat – remind them again you are here to help and they can follow your guide to healthy living for a small fee per month.
Step 1: Find your audience.
You start with a topic that most everyone can relate to: Food, but you gather an audience who aren’t going to question what you’re saying because the reason they have turned to you in the first place is because they are confused about food and need guidance. The concerned parent market is a good market to get into because most mothers want to do what is right for their families and children. You’ll need more than a niche market though, you’ll need to make them feel welcome and loved. They need to feel strong and powerful. You need an audience you can call to arms for when criticisms start rolling in. If you give people a sense of community and purpose, they are more likely to follow and defend you.
When you sign up to the Food Babe’s mailing list, you get the following email:
“I know you are going to love the unconventional habits that are attached. They have certainly changed my life and I hope yours too.
When I started this blog, the number one request I got from my friends and family was to develop an Eating Guide that would take the guess work out of weight loss while eating the healthiest foods on the planet. I invite you to check out the program – it’s updated monthly with everything you need to know to get started eating real, fresh, organic, and non-GMO food.
I’m so happy you are on board, I promise I will value your time and interest and only email you when I have something new or exciting to share. I’ve got a super long list of content to write about and film that will blow your mind!
Until then, I’m hot on the trail to investigate what’s in your food…
P.S. Are we hooked up on social media yet? I love sharing my way of life and candid thoughts on a daily basis. you don’t want to miss it! Check me out on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.“
The promises start from day 1. According to the Food Babe, encouraged by family and friends, Food Babe decided to develop an Eating Guide. Right away we see people who have gone to Food Babe for advice and a guide to eating based on her “investigations”. People who want to eat healthy and live longer and do right by their children. People who have no training in research or science. This is start of positioning oneself as an authority on food.
When you navigate to Food Babe’s “subscribe” section of her website, you are greeted with the following:
“End the confusion. It’s easy”. Discover what is truly healthy and get a free guide to surprisingly powerful habits that will change your life”.
“Our mission is to create a healthier world full of the most nutritious, safe, and wholesome food to feed ourselves and our families. We create public awareness about what is in food, how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store and how to live an organic lifestyle in this over-processed world. We inspire change in the food industry, beginning within our local communities and expanding into the largest worldwide food corporations. In demanding that food manufacturers and retailers provide organic and nutritious food, we open the door for a greater supply of good affordable food in the world around us. Collectively, we have the power to change the world. ”
Scrolling down you’ll find a section dedicated to public pressure campaigns and explanations of how the Food Babe army changed the world, furthering the sense of community and empowerment the confused customers can received from joining Food Babe.
Step 2: Gather your audience. Gather the troops.
The Food Babes Facebook page almost runs on a formula. There are plenty of up lifting empowering photos to make her followers feel great mixed in with reminders that Food Babe is there for her audience. Slipped in amongst these two things is the occasional scary looking photo with junk science talking about the latest scary looking food with a scary sounding chemical.
The occasional scary chemical post accompanied by constant reminders of love is a good tactic to further the idea that Food Babe is a warrior for the people. The Food Babe even has her own name for her community – the Food Babe army. An army where she can rally the troops against the very places and foods she is scaring them about. This fosters a sense of kinship and love by using a cult technique called “love bombing“.
The first two steps to gathering and keeping troops in her army is referred to the Trusted Advisor model. The Trusted Advisor is a person who can act as a counsellor and sounding board within business. Food Babe has not only positioned herself as an authority on food but also acts as a person you can go to for advice on all things food related.
With the Trust Advisor model comes the Trust Equation. From the Trust Advisory website: “The Trust Equation uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness. These four variables are best described as: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation“.
CREDIBILITY has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.” (source)
RELIABILITY has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.” (source)
INTIMACY refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.” (source)
SELF-ORIENTATION refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on him or herself, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal — I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.” (source)
Food Babe as successfully managed to obtain all of these traits while peddling pseudoscience – mainly due to her audience not being scientifically literate.
Step 3: Scare the troops.
As mentioned before, the people who generally gravitate towards the Food Babe are those who are confused about food, want to do what’s right for their families and scientifically illiterate people who are untrained in research. By building a community of people who love the fact you love them and the idea you’re “here for them”, the Food Babe and her warrior status is beloved and trusted. Why research when that’s what Food Babe does?
Scaring scientifically illiterate people is easy – you just need to say the names of scary sounding chemicals (like Dihydrogen Monoxide). Or the word chemical in general. The chemical of choice for Food Babe is 4MEI (4-Methylimidazole). 4MEI is a Group 2B carcinogenic – possibly carcinogenic to humans. Disregarding the fact Food Babe drinks alcohol (a Group 1 carcinogen – which is carcinogenic to humans), she focuses purely on the fact 4MEI is in the Caramel Colouring of the Starbucks drink Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. I don’t think she realises 4MEI can also be formed in coffee beans or when roasting and grilling meat. Either she doesn’t care or doesn’t know. My point is, if you want to use 4MEI as a scaretactic, you need to address all the ways in which 4MEI can be produced or found in food and stop drinking those ways with meals.
Fergus Clydesdale, professor of food science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst has noted of the Food Babe: “By her logic, one could argue that peaches are poisonous because they contain a high level of cyanide in the pit. He added that, in general, many of her claims contain “a misunderstanding of what dangerous levels are” in food. He cited a basic toxicology tenet popularized by scientist Paracelsus: the dose makes the poison” (source).
Food Babe promotes herself as a food investigator – relaying the information she has Googled back to the masses. When her community are more confused and scared about the food they’re eating, it’s a good time to bring out products to sell.
You’ll need to keep your troops active and engaged and feeling powerful. Feeling powerful is not only a good motivator but it will keep your troops interested in what you have to say. Choose a large corporation with a popular product you can scare people with – say Starbucks and their Pumpkin Spiced Lattes or Subway and their bread or Kraft Mac and Cheese. Proceed with bringing the fight to the people.
Rally your troops to do your work for you. Start a petition or get them to bombard the social media of your target of choice. Either the target will ignore you and look like a bastard or they will bow to you pressure and you can claim victory. It’s a win-win situation that further validates you, your mission and your troops.
Time to bring out free stuff.
Step 5: Free stuff!
Everyone loves free stuff. Food Babe starts out with her “Food Babe’s Unconventional Habits” PDF which is included in the introductory email when you first sign up to the mailing list. Included in the 2 page PDF are the following topics (each topics header is linked to a blog post elaborating on the topic):
#1 – Drink Warm Lemon Water and Cayenne Pepper
#2 – Eliminate Refined Sugar From Your Diet
#3 – Fast Every Single Day
#4 – Drink a Green Drink Every Single Day
#5 – Change Your Grocery Store
#6 – Stop Drinking With Your Meals
Now some of these “habits” may make you feel quite yucky also they are complete bullshit. When you live on a diet full of one type of substance and then completely cut that substance out – you’re going to feel bad especially with fasting. However for the person who has found Food Babe and her established community, they may go into the exercise of changing habits with a preconceived idea of what to feel and how to feel it. The habit guide PDF has stories of how Food Babe follows these habits everyday and look at her now! She’s pretty, toned and tanned! This is important to remember because no matter how yucky you feel fasting everyday – having someone as pretty as the Food Babe serves as a good motivation to continue. Her website is also littered with testimonials from other members and from Food Babe herself. Now we all know testimonials mean nothing in Science Land but to the untrained brain, testimonials are the things you can relate to. You can relate to your peers easier than facts and figure from scientists.
Based on the established Food Babe army, a person entering into the army is already forming opinions and ideas based on the community around them. These ideals may lead to confirmation bias and the placebo effect when it comes to her daily habits advice, Though her blog posts are littered with scientific inaccuracies, appeals to nature and pseudoscience – to the untrained eye, they seem genuine. The placebo effect sets in. A change in diet can make us feel better. You’re no longer ingesting a lot of sugar that may keep you awake therefore you’re sleeping better, you wake feeling better. You attribute this feeling better (confirmed by the anecdotes around you) to the Food Babes habits.
You’re starting to get hooked.
Step 6: Need more advice? Sell it for cheap.
You’re starting to get hooked on feeling good and the blog. By now you’re probably thinking Food Babe is pretty knowledgeable. But how do you get more information? There are still so many scary sounding foods out there, where to start?
Food Babe’s got your back for $119.88 (down from $300) per year. Food Babe’s eating guide membership includes alerts to latest blog posts, eating guides, weight loss recipes, bonus material and more. The spiel on the page includes the following questions:
Are you unhappy with the way you’ve been eating?
Do you struggle with figuring out what to buy and eat?
Do you have extra pounds to lose you can’t get rid of no matter what diet you follow?
Do you find yourself not being able to focus and getting tired throughout the day?
Do you eat too many processed foods and not enough real food?
Do you want a clear, brighter and a more vibrant complexion?
Do you want to make eating an organic & non-GMO diet easier and almost mindless?
Confusion combined with appeals to wanting a better looking body. I thought the beauty industry had cornered the “make people feel like crap about their bodies and then offer them a cure” market?
But wait, there’s more!
The only reason I’ve been able to maintain my ideal weight for over 10 years now and feel amazing, is because of my habits, food choices and routine. And now I want to share that with you every month in a digestible and attainable way.
Everyone wants menu planning, weight control and what we are eating to be brainless. Always thinking about what to eat next can be overwhelming and figuring out something healthy to cook at the last minute totally sucks!
I’ve mentioned this before, confused people wanting to look like Food Babe and feel how she says she feels most likely makes up a percentage of her audience. I have noticed a glaring lack of discussions about exercise on her blog though.
When we look at just the eating guide membership Food Babe offers, we can see just how much profit she has the potential to make. Currently Food Babe has 762,415 on her Facebook page.
If we base our math on 1% of that figure, 1% of her total fanbase equals: 7624.16 (approx) people. $119.88, per year for Food Babe’s eating guide membership. That’s about $9.99 per month.
Multiple 7624.16 people by $119.88.
She has the potential to make $913,984.31 per year based on 1% of her fan base. Not including her speaking fees for events. Interviews on TV shows. Just the eating guides. That’s a lot of money that can be spent on expensive organic food and personal trainers. This is called economic privilege. I’ll speak about this more in my next post – Food Babe now has the means and money to live the ultimate organic life. Something her concerned parent audience may not be able to afford.
Food Babe also has a basic program for $17.99 Monthly, or $38.97 Quarterly.
Step 7: Sell more stuff by using “sponsors”.
Like most pseudoscientists that use scare-tactics and love bombing to keep customers, Food Babe has her own shop where you can buy all of her favourite products. In a recent article on Adage.com (“Activist or Capitalist? How the ‘Food Babe’ Makes Money“), the authors discuss the following:
“Part of her business model appears to be rooted in her affiliate-marketing partnerships. One of the companies she has recently plugged on her site is called Green Polka Dot Box, which sells home-delivered natural, organic and non-GMO foods. The company’s affiliate partners can earn 30% of the company’s annual $49.95 per-person membership fee for each person referred, plus $2 for every food purchase that person makes as long as they are a member, according to terms of the program listed on the company’s website.“
“Another company she has plugged in editorial posts is Nutiva, which sells organic “superfood” such as hemp and chia seeds. The company’s affiliate-marketing program promises a 10% cut of sales on referrals, according to its website.”
Referral systems and affiliate marketing systems only work if you haven’t written earlier blogs about how you don’t like the product you now claim to love:
“Another company she has plugged in editorial posts is Nutiva, which sells organic “superfood” such as hemp and chia seeds. The company’s affiliate-marketing program promises a 10% cut of sales on referrals, according to its website” (source).
Also don’t do this either:
For those of you who don’t know, Suja Juice is a juice cleanse program that Food Babe has recently jumped on-board with. Suja Juice standard recommendation is “Our standard six juice per day program has about 1,200 calories” (source). Six bottles per day? You can buy the 3 day Fresh Start cleanse (18 bottles, 6 per day) for $161.23. Each bottle of juice is about 16oz, that’s nearly half a Litre. 6 bottles of equals roughly 96oz. That’s roughly 2.8L of juice.
I find it interesting anyone could get any benefit from these juices considering there is no scientific proof juices can remove any toxins or waste from the body that your liver doesn’t already remove. Juice cleanses use the Detox scam. Detoxification has been thoroughly debunked as pseudoscience. Plus the amount of sugar found in one bottle of Suja Juice far outweighs the amount found in the Food Babe’s enemy – The Pumpkin Spice Latte. Suja Juices have 180 grams of sugar per bottle, Pumpkin Spiced Lattes have 50g per drink. Suja Juice gets around this by stating the sugar in their products is purely natural sugar found in fruit whereas other sugars are refined sugars (crystallized sugar that has gone through processing). Even though refined sugar has been processed and natural sugars are – well natural, both types should be limited per day. About 100 calories per day for women and 150 for men. Doing some quick math, there are 4 calories per gram, that would mean for an adult woman – your daily intake of sugar should be 12.96 grams.
Pumpkin Spiced Latte: 50g for 1 drink, which equals roughly 386% above the daily recommended intake.
Suja Juice (Suja Figi drink): 14g for one bottle (1 day of the juice cleanse program is 6 bottles which equal 84g per day of the cleanse. 252g over the 3 day program), which equals roughly 648.14% above the daily recommended intake.
One Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte has approximately 41% less sugar than drinking one days worth of Suja Juice (using the Suja Figi drink) cleanse.
Update: I received another email this morning from Food Babe:
If you can’t read what it says, here it is:
“We are being duped and conned at every turn. It’s time to stop outsourcing our health to the food industry and take back control.
Witnessing so many transformations from eating a typical American diet to this new way of life, gives me even more confirmation that quitting my full-time job to dedicate my life to helping others live in this over-processed food world was the best decision I’ve ever made. Yes, we’ve gotten big companies to change their ingredients together, and that’s totally worth it, but these stories below from real people like you keep me going the strongest and will make the biggest impact on the food industry in the long run!
I know that many of you don’t know where to start, or even how to cook (believe me, I’ve been there). I’ve figured out how to navigate this over-processed food world and I’m going to show you how to do it with ease, peace of mind and an easy-to-follow plan.
The Food Babe Eating Guide is a program will help you opt out of this broken system and finally break free from the grips of the food industry. We can’t control what they are doing to our food, but we can control what we put in our mouths everyday.
These are just some of the people who started taking back control and have changed their lives forever:
“Since purchasing the annual membership and transitioning to a more healthy lifestyle, we feel so much better and we have both lost 15 pounds each! Not only are we living a healthier life because we are eating better, but we are decreasing the chance of developing ailments!!!” – Joe and Sue
“The recipes are easy to prepare, delicious and I can always trust that ingredients are the cleanest possible. Since I started following Food Babe’s eating principals I have felt so much better physically. I don’t feel like I am “denying” myself by passing up chemical-laden artificially-colored sweets, whereas I used to have to resist temptation constantly with sweets. I have higher energy, feel more attractive, and feel more in control of my appetite.” ~ Nina
“The thing I have noticed most about using the food guides is that I actually love cooking! I wasn’t so much of a cook before. I love knowing what exactly is going into my food and it actually tastes better than restaurants!” ~ Rachel
You can read more stories here.
For only $119.88 (that’s an investment of $9.99 a month!) you’ll have our full support for an entire year plus a Starter Guide, a new Monthly Eating Guide each month, and all bonus material – hundreds of pages of knowledge at your finger tips INSTANTLY. You can ask us anything, anytime you like.
If that option isn’t right for you, you can try the program for just $17.99 too (without the bonus material).
Living an organic lifestyle is not always easy – but can be with these guides and the help from my team.
If you’re unhappy with the way you are eating or need help – The Food Babe Eating Guide program is here for you.
JOIN HERE: http://foodbabe.com/eating-guides/
Again, if you have any questions about this program, let us know!
Sending you much love,
P.S. Remember the 3 free bonuses (valued at $180) are going away at Midnight tonight and won’t be available for free any longer. Next week I’m getting back to investigating, so stay tuned. I am so fired up at what I am discovering and can’t wait to share it with you.”
It’s like a pseudoscience smorgasbord! Testimonials, scare tactics, calls to arms, calls for money, special deals on products she gets a percent of the profits for and no science whatsoever.
It’s clear to me that Food Babe doesn’t understand the fundamentals of science. It’s clear that Food Babe knows how to make money – by getting paid by companies to promote their products and scaring parents into buying said products.
Update: The Adage has done a similar article.
This Week In Pseudoscience has an article that discusses “Othorexia”, which has the nickname “Food Babe disorder”.
The Philosophy Warrior has a great article on the dangers of eating clean.
Neurologica examines Food Babes lack of understanding around Chemistry and science.
Jon Stewart and the Food Babe: Toxins in your tea.
Science Based Medicine has called the Food Babe the “Jenny McCarthy of Food“.
Mark Crislip debunks the Food Babe scam.
Steven Novella takes on microwaves and nutrition from the Food Babe.
IanChadwick: Food Babe and other nonsense.
Food Friday: Investigating ‘Food Babe’ over at eekology.
What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery by Maureen Ogle.
Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall For The Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe in Forbes.
The Curious Wavefuntion: The Problem with Food Babe.
Reddit.com: Food Babe – Stop Using Logical Fallacies.
10 Things I Wish Food Babe Knew.
Food Babe, my pumpkin latte tastes like shit.
Is the Food Babe a Fraud?
Food Babe visits my university – Kevin Folta, Food science and the Food Babe.
Five minutes of the Food Babe: Why does she matter?
Is the Food Babe a fear monger?
A Feminist Mother and Science Writer Responds to Food Babe.
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Marissa, Zinser Hayes: So the creator of the Suja infographic picked the one with the highest sugar content. And? This is relevant because it’s one of the drinks included in the Suja Juice Cleanse. You’re missing the whole point: Food Babe demonizes Starbucks for carrying one drink with a high sugar content but promotes one with almost the same amount (actually more if you include an entire days cleanse. Look at Suja’s website) Only difference is Starbuck’s isn’t marketing their drink as a health drink. Which makes it even more dangerous. Yes I said dangerous. Where do you think diabetes comes from? Heredity and sugar overload, which is what you get with the Suga “Cleanse”. I’m sorry but I’m not sure if you all are just hard headed or too dense to understand the facts. They’re there. But no one is paying attention. The light is on. But no one is home.
i agree Suja has some juices that are extremely high in sugar that I would never recommend to anyone. That isn’t really my debate. She is taking these huge corporations to task and holding them accountable for the quality of their ingredients. This benefits EVERYONE. Yes she charges for certain services that are optional something I have never purchased, to make a living. It’s something she is obviously passionate about that she is able to make a living. How does that impact people’s lives? Even the ones who don’t subscribe.? She is able to get these giant companies to make better changes. You get better food. So why all the hate? She is doing us all a favor. Some of us appreciate it…..
That has to be THE most thorough and detailed explanations of the “phenomenon” that is the Fraud Babe. Thank you so much; I will definitely be Evernoting the link to your article for future reference.
I just recently learned that Vani and I live in the same city of Charlotte, NC, which got me wondering what I might say if I were to encounter her. Thankfully, as an evidence-based dentist (no woo-worshiping patients in my practice, thank goodness), the likelihood of her ever choosing me as a dentist is lower than the odds of the sun not coming up tomorrow, but if we were at the same restaurant? It would be difficult to restrain my sarcasm and not approach her with challenges on some of the BS she writes.
What I like most about your article is how you describe the “funnel” that she creates, pulling people in deeper and deeper until they trust no one but her or those she recommends. Which of course is why they are completely unable to accept that she is actually one of the most clueless, money-hungry, and intellectually dishonest people in existence, who is living proof of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Thank you again!
Males, in particular, should not be consuming soy protein in any significant amount,
let alone twice a day every day as Visalus advises.
What does this growing trend represent to the average
person, and how does it relate to the current state of
the economy. What is fascinating is that their shakes actually works and delivers
some wonderful results.
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