Why I won’t let fear-mongering bloggers tell me what treats to buy
By Viv Steele, Contributor
Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL, to its friends) has just arrived and already the backlash has begun. You probably saw it on Facebook: an article with a picture of everyone’s favourite fall coffee beverage accompanied by text describing the drink’s contents as containing “ambiguous natural flavours,” “Monsanto milk,” and a “toxic dose of sugar.”
The meme-like image appears in the ominously titled blogpost “You’ll Never Guess What’s In A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (Hint: You Won’t Be Happy),” written by self-proclaimed “Food Babe” Vani Hari for her blog FoodBabe.com.
Some backstory on Hari: this fear-mongering, credential-less food blogger is known for swaying opinion against big food corps; maybe you saw her blogpost earlier this year asking you to give up your Guinness because it contains high-fructose corn syrup. She has also been successful in getting Subway to remove the chemical azodicarbonamide from their bread, despite the fact that, according to NPR, “the [FDA] long ago set an allowable level of 45 parts per million in dough”—not very much at all. She’s anti-vaccine, anti-microwave, and completely anti-science.
Hari uses the technophobia of easily swayed consumers, combined with the Internet’s ability to disseminate information like a virus, to whip people into a frenzy of boycotts and letter-writing campaigns. People have a cultish adherence to her views, despite the fact that she has zero credentials in health science or nutrition.
So how does the Food Babe convince her followers—and in turn their social networks—that everything they love is going to kill them? She employs the “appeal to nature” fallacy, which is a rhetorical device that falsely infers that man-made, complicated-sounding things are bad for us, and that things “from nature” are inherently good or better.
This is the type of fallacious “reasoning” that makes people think vaccines and genetically modified organisms are harmful, when both of these innovations have been widely accepted by the scientific community to not only be safe, but beneficial for the world. Rhetorical appeals to nature stem from human essentialism, which is the idea that humans are special and separate from nature, and thus efforts by humans to modify nature necessarily must be dangerous (“dangerous” being the term that the Food Babe most commonly labels chemicals).
Let’s get back to why Hari’s outlandish accusations shouldn’t stop you from drinking the occasional PSL every fall (if you want to, that is). For starters, nobody can or should tell you what the hell to do with your own money. And further, nobody is expecting you to drink a Venti extra-sweet PSL with your oatmeal every single morning. Starbucks markets the drink like a premium, luxurious treat—everything, from the hype leading up to its arrival to the blown-up pictures of the rich-looking beverage topped with a copious amount of whipped cream, screams that the PSL is a sometimes-food.
Junk food is supposed to be junk food. We all know that it’s not a great idea to regularly consume the 49 grams of sugar contained in a full-sweet Grande PSL, but it’s no more sugar than would be found in a restaurant-serving of cheesecake or even half of a Big Gulp. Vani Hari uses bad science, bad logic, and bad rhetoric to police peoples’ junk food choices and pollute the Internet with even more misinformation.