Food Babe: Starbucks needs to offer organic milk

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  • Ryan G.

    Vani Hari, AKA "Food Babe," scared all of North America by asserting that the pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks was full of cancer causing chemicals but void of actual pumpkin. As usual, Hari's "analysis" is severely lacking, and there is no need to avoid this fall treat.

    First, you would not expect to find pumpkin in pumpkin spice. Pumpkin spice is a blend of spices that is made to resemble the taste of pumpkin, but it doesn't actually contain pumpkin. It is typically made by blending cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. By screaming that there is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte, Hari is alerting us that she is either A: ignorant, B: not much of an investigator, or C: knowingly and willfully deceiving us. Or some combination of the three.

    The largest part of her argument revolves around caramel color IV, and that it causes cancer. First, what is caramel color IV? Like all other caramel, it is made by melting sugar. The "IV" designation means the sugar was heated with sulfite and ammonium compounds. This processing creates a caramel color that is stable in acidic environments. In addition to color, caramel color IV can enhance the taste of coffee and act as an emulsifier.

    So is caramel color IV cancerous? We'll get to that, but first let's look at its toxicity. According to the World Health Organization, a 132 pound adult could consume 12 grams of caramel color IV every day and be completely fine. To put that in perspective, most diet colas contain less than 2 grams per liter. So an adult could drink more than 6 liters of diet cola every day, and suffer no health problems from caramel color IV. To further put this in perspective, the toxic dose for water is 6-8 liters (yes, water can kill you). Cola is just flavored water, so that means an adult would die of hyponatremia (water intoxication) before they had problems with caramel color.

    Now that toxicity is of no concern, what about cancer? It isn't caramel IV that is of concern here, it's 4-Methylimidazole (MEI), a byproduct of the heating process. Not all studies have shown MEI to be a carcinogen, and it is not agreed that it can cause cancer in humans. The studies that do show it to be cancerous, only find cancer causing ability at very high doses. How high you ask? A woman would need to drink 37,000 cans of soda every day to reach the doses that caused cancer in these studies. Water intoxication (hyponatremia) would kill a person long before they could come close to this dose.

    I should also point out that people are regularly exposed to MEI, as it is a common cooking byproduct. In fact, MEI naturally occurs in all coffee due to the roasting process. It's in there even without caramel color IV added. Hari, of course, ignores this fact. All over her website she recommends and sells organic coffee, and even has Starbucks-substitute recipes. Why does the MEI in that coffee get a pass, but it's a deadly carcinogen when it's in a pumpkin spice latte?

    Hari's coffee inconsistencies don't end there. There are roughly 1000 naturally occurring chemicals in coffee. Of these, 28 have been tested, and 19 were positively identified as carcinogens. The 19 naturally occurring carcinogens are acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, benzene, benzofuran, benzo(a)pyrene, caffeic acid, catechol, 1,2,5,6-dibenzanthracene, ethanol, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, furan, furfural, hydrogen peroxide, hydorquinone, limonene, styrene, toluene, and xylene. Yes, these are also naturally occurring in the organic coffee Hari sells/promotes on her site.

    I think Hari has some explaining to do. For someone who claims to never ingest something she can't pronounce–well, I challenge her to read that entire list of 19 chemicals. I also want to know why she continues to promote organic coffee, given these known carcinogens and the fact that the other 972 chemicals haven't been tested. I think we can all agree Hari's investigative skill falls short, as does her scientific knowledge and factual consistency.

    Now before I alarm you–no–coffee isn't dangerous. To my knowledge there are no studies showing adverse effects from drinking coffee. This is because these naturally occurring chemicals are in doses far too low to cause cancer. And that is really the takeaway message here. When people like Hari tell you a dangerous substance is in your food, ask "how much?" Dose matters. In the case of the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, caramel color IV and MEI are in doses so low, you should be more concerned about the water content.

    So go ahead, enjoy your pumpkin spice latte! But as with everything else, in moderation

  • Terra

    There will always be people like you, Ryan G, who refuse to look at ALL of the science and choose to focus on one aspect of it. Enough said.

    • Madcapfeline

      No, not "enough said." You didn't say anything. Only that Ryan G. has somehow missed some pivotal piece of evidence in his analysis that only you and the food boob are privy to. So, by all means share your wisdom. Provide us with the "education" that we so "desperately" need. I'd bet you a shiny nickel that you can't name every step of the scientific method without Googling it, so don't lecture people on "ALL of the science" when the basis of your scientific knowledge is some blog post with some scary words about unspecified toxins, linked to you on Facebook by your brother's hippy girlfriend.

  • Joel Ness

    To top it off, Hari has no qualifications to do what she does. She has no background in food/nutrition, health sciences, chemistry, agriculture or any science related subject that correlates to her blog. She is academically dishonest and sells her own goods for profit through fear mongering her "army".

    • Madcapfeline

      She's running a protection racket, plain and simple. "That's a nice little coffee shop you have there Starbucks. It'd be a shame if something were to happen to it…"

  • Scott Rawlins

    Tell the Food Babe to get off her butt and show us nitwit farmers out here how to farm organically. She wants all food to be grown organically…fair enough. Show us how to do it. I'm not holding my breath as it looks like the Food Babe has never held a hoe in her hand and probably doesn't know what one looks like. Yet, she talks as if she know everything about agriculture. Worse yet, you let her disparage our nation's farmers as evil, knuckle-dragging cretins. Shame on you for letting her spout her idiocy!!

  • Madcapfeline

    I'd like to point out that once upon a time, Starbucks DID offer organic milk. They ultimately stopped carrying it (February 2008) because they were losing money as no one wanted it.

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