If the title of this blog is offensive, then you, like me, live in a place where “beaver” is crude, unacceptable slang for a female body part. I’m sorry to resort to language like this, but I hope that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and continue reading.
Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”) makes a living posting sensationalized articles and videos on health, well-being, and alternative medicine. One thing that’s obvious about the alternative health movement is that sensationalism sells. I deliberately chose my title to illustrate this point.
In her infamous YouTube post, “Do You Eat Beaver Butt?,”1 Hari uses a stuffed beaver as a prop to cast doubt on natural food additives by deriding castoreum, a vanilla-flavored chemical taken from scent glands of male and female beavers. These glands happen to be located between the tail and pelvis.
It’s unpleasant and impractical to milk a beaver–both for the beaver and the human. But let’s forget for a moment that the Babe misleads her fans about castoreum, which in reality is rarely used as a flavoring.2 The real problem is that, typical of her posts, Food Babe uses the source of the chemical to go quickly down a slippery slope and cast doubt on all natural ingredients–indeed, even on the definition of “natural ingredient” itself.
The fact is, humans use products derived from “disgusting” natural places in countless beneficial ways. Please note: vegetarians will likely take issue with me and argue we shouldn’t use animal sources at all. That’s a debate for another time and place. Vani Hari is not a vegetarian.3,7 She’s not arguing against using animal products.
Here’s a quick list of useful animal products coming from “disgusting” places. If I can use Food Babe’s gross-out tactics to increase readership and possibly educate along the way, I’m not above doing it.
Aortic Valve Replacements
Undoubtedly the most fascinating part of my experience as a pre-med student was an eight hour stint as an observer in the operating room during two open heart surgeries. In one of the operations, the surgeon replaced the patient’s aortic valve. This valve resides in the heart, controlling the flow of blood in the main artery of the body.
The replacement valve was taken from a pig. During lunch (Chinese food–it’s amazing how much you can eat immediately after watching a human chest cracked open!) the surgeon explained the advantages of using an animal product, which is already biologically similar to a human, then stripped down to cartilage to minimize rejection by the immune system.
For example, patients on artificial valves can be restricted to a lifetime on medications. I am not a doctor, but am providing a link to an easy-to-understand transcript on the procedure–written by a real doctor–if you’d like to know more.4
I do feel bad for the pig. But watching the patient open her eyes in recovery and smile at her grandchildren, I felt the sacrifice was worth it.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil comes from [drum roll please]… oily fish!13 Fans of both alternative and real medicine love fish oil because it’s a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Possible benefits include reducing the risk of serious heart conditions, lowering blood pressure, and preventing cardiovascular disease.5,6
Fish don’t produce omega-3 themselves. They accumulate it by eating microalgae (and other fish that have accumulated omega-3). Oily fish and algae. It’s what’s for dinner!
Hypocritically, Food Babe loves omega-3, still eats fish, but now disclaims the fatty acid as an omega-3 source. Instead she pushes a seed blend–and receives a commission from the vendor of the seeds.7 Can you say “conflict of interest?”
Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, did you know that they’re considered so beneficial that orange juice manufacturers are adding them to their juice?8
Before I beat the omega-3 horse to death, I’ll mention a 2007 USA Today article that mentions the healthy fatty acid was being added to an estimated 250 products (including juice, cereal, and cheese) being rolled out that year.9
Food Babe is hilariously confused when it comes to juices, fretting that “chemicals” such as water (I’m not making this shit up!) and Vitamin C are added during processing.14 This stupidity is not surprising coming from a woman who once ranted about airlines adding nitrogen to the air in airplane cabins (earth’s atmosphere is 72% nitrogen–it’s what we naturally breathe!)
Heparin, listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines,10 is an important medicine used to prevent the clotting of blood. It’s used as a blood-thinner by people with medical conditions where clotting is a problem, as well as before surgery to prevent life-threatening clots.
Heparin is made from animal tissues, including pig intestines.11
Most people don’t like to think about this one. Eggs don’t come out of the chicken’s butt, but, “geographically”, it’s close. Fortunately, the end result is a sterile egg: (1) The hen has one hole exposed to the outside world, known as the vent. (2) Both poop and the egg must exit this hole. (3) But when the hen lays an egg, the oviduct extends outside of the hole–like a glove–shielding the egg from poop.12
But the rooster still has to stick his penis in there. Ooh, yuck! After I published this post, an insightful reader pointed out that the rooster penis isn’t actually inserted into the hen. Instead, the exchange of sperm takes place via a mechanism known as a “cloacal kiss.”23,24 Fascinating bit of science there–with, I think, the potential for an equally high gross-out factor.
Where chicken eggs come from (click to enlarge). See footnotes for image credits.
Chicken eggs are nutritious.15 They’re also a valuable host for growing certain vaccines, which, unless you have an egg allergy, are safe and critical in preventing diseases.
I remember talking to an old farmer in Kentucky who told me he used to drink directly from the cow on hot summer days. I was fascinated, but a little grossed out at the same time. Maybe it’s the proximity of the udder to the cow’s anus?
Fortunately, we have pasteurization. Predictably, Hari is absolutely clueless when it comes to this process.16 Pasteurization is the most effective way to handle disease-causing organisms (and cow poop) while preserving the nutritional value of the product. In fact, unpasteurized products can be dangerous and have caused serious disease outbreaks.
If you’re freaked out by putting something in your mouth that comes from the questionably located glands of an animal, add cheese to your banned food list: cows, goats, sheep, and even buffalo are the sources.
Like the other food products in my list, cheese is nutritious and it tastes good. Just check out Food Babe’s goat cheese recipe!17
We don’t eat it, but a lot of people like to wear it and sleep on it. A lot of these same people might be grossed out at the thought of being covered in worm spit. Silk is a protein secreted from the salivary glands of certain insects, including the silkworm.18 Yes, your salivary glands produce… spit.
In her beauty archives, Food Babe recommends sleeping on 100% silk pillowcases.19 Fortunately, worm spit is 100% natural and organic–just like chemicals extracted from beaver butts.
Gelatin is a flavorless additive that adds texture to foods like yogurt, cream cheese, marshmallows, candy, fruit snacks, and margarine. It’s used as a fining agent in beer and wines (fining agents give such drinks their clarity). The use of gelatin is so widespread in food production that it’s usually overlooked. It’s also important in the pharmaceutical industry–for example, in dissolvable gel capsules for pills. Gelatin is made from the bones, skins, and connective tissues of animals.20,21,22
Like the other animal products in this list, gelatin may come from a “gross” place, but it’s hard to imagine food without it. While it has no effect on the nutritional value of the food, few of us would like to drink our marshmallows and yogurt. They’d be liquid without the gelatin.
Everything in the universe is made up of chemicals. Food Babe frequently uses either the source and/or names of chemicals to cast doubt on their safety. Some people might naturally recoil before eating sodium chloride before being told it’s just common table salt.
One common joke about Food Babe is that if she can’t pronounce it, she won’t eat it. In that same vein, she wants her fans to believe that if something comes from a “bad” place, it isn’t good for you. This is utter nonsense.
Vani Hari is apparently making a small fortune by casting doubt on safe, established products and earning commissions on the alternative products she hawks on her web site. It’s sad that more people do not examine her claims critically. They’re being misled, and she’s laughing all the way to the bank.
“The Hen’s Perspective on Laying Eggs (Wieckmann, 1896; Grzimek, 1964)”, as referenced by a wonderful blog post by Wiebe H. van der Molen (http://www.afn.org/~poultry/egghen.htm). None of those authors necessarily agree with or endorse my work here. Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
Screen snapshot “Do You Eat Beaver Butt?” copyright (c) Vani Hari, “The Food Babe”. Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
Please note: to avoid increasing search engine exposure for questionable web sites, I use the DoNotLink URL obfuscator on their links. I promise, you will not be redirected to porn.
(1) Original Food Babe article
(2) Fernelli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients
(3) Food Babe: Chicken Salad
(4) Bruce Lytle, MD: Transcript for Aortic Valve Replacement
(5) Mayo Clinic: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid
(6) Fish Oil Cools the Inflammasome
(7) Food Babe: “I stopped taking fish oil a long time ago”
(9) USA Today: Omega-3 Pours into cereal, orange juice, eggs, pet food
(10) WHO List of Essential Medicines
(11) Production and Chemical Processing of Low Molecular Weight Heparins
(12) Avian Reproductive System–Female
(13) Oily Fish
(14) Food Babe Juice Labels
(15) Nutrient Content of One Large Egg
(16) Food Babe doesn’t understand pasteurization
(17) Food Babe Goat Cheese Recipe
(18) Silk Making & Silk Production
(19) Food Babe Beauty Tips: Silk Pillowcase
(20) USDA: Gelatin Processing
(21) Gelatin Manufacturers of America: Gelatin Handbook
(22) Gelatin: Fining Agents
(23) Cloacal Kiss (Encylopaedia Britannica)
(24) Cloacal Kiss (Urban Dictionary)