Vani Hari, the Food Babe, puts her recipes where her activist mouth is and guides us to simple, healthy, real food options
Inconvenient facts are still facts. ~ Vani Hari
Vani Hari aka the ‘Food Babe’ has dedicated her career (and life) to unraveling the food industry’s playbook — to taking on the Big Food corporations and tirelessly advocating for truth and transparency… because she learned the hard way in her own life. Hers is truly a story of walking her walk and talking her talk. It is also the journey of how a young woman who was once a workaholic addicted to fast food — landed in a hospital bed. But it is also the story of healing and revealing… and no turning back.
The truth is that we all know we can do better in the food and health department of our own lives. However, sometimes it just feels daunting to know where to begin. In her latest book, Food Babe Kitchen with more than 100 delicious, real food recipes to change our bodies and lives — she’s got us covered and outlines how we can keep it simple and not have to spend the entire day preparing it.
Vani takes us by the hand and provides a refreshing approach to being our Best Selves in the kitchen and in life.
We asked Vani a few questions about parenting, pandemics and juggling it all during these challenging times — that we thought might inspire you to jumpstart your own relationship to food and health. Now let’s get cookin’!
Q: Now more than ever, in this time of global pandemic, the notion of ‘food as medicine’ has never been more salient. What are you doing to keep your family fortified during this pandemic, flu season and generally, all year round? Do you have some go-to favorites?
Like just about all of us, I’ve never experienced anything like what we’re going through in the world today. My wake-up call was over a decade ago. I wasn’t taking care of my health. I worked long hours, ate whatever I wanted, and didn’t pay attention to the toxins in my environment. Eventually, I became very sick. I woke up in hospital and felt awful. I never want to feel like that again. That is when I began taking my health seriously and every aspect of my life improved.
I wholeheartedly believe that food is medicine and how well you feed your body makes an incredible impact on your immune system.
My new book Food Babe Kitchen gathers together my favorite recipes, the things that I make for my own family every single week — and that they love — all in one place. It’s a way for you to eat healthfully, close to the earth, with the best ingredients that you choose, so when you sit down to enjoy a delicious meal you know what you are eating and you haven’t spent all day in the kitchen. One of the top recipes I make all the time is Harley’s Favorite Smoothie (a blend of kale, banana, pineapple, mango, ginger, and almond butter). This drink is full of anti-inflammatory ingredients that help to keep us healthy. We also love to make Lentil Pasta with Kale — thankfully my daughter Harley loves kale as much as I do!
We eat lots of vegetables, fruits and real, whole foods including beans and whole grains like steel-cut oats. Thankfully, my husband loves to garden so we have this abundance of fresh produce growing right on our porch and in the backyard. This is important because these foods improve your gut health, which is crucial to a healthy immune system — about 70% of the immune system is located in the intestines. Which is why I also make sure to get in my probiotics daily. Probiotics are good bacteria that help maintain a healthy immune response. You can get your probiotics by eating fermented foods (like kimchi and sauerkraut) and taking high quality supplements.
For the last 15+ years, I’ve started my mornings with a big glass of warm lemon water. One of the key nutrients in lemons is vitamin C. This amazing vitamin fights cell damage and chronic inflammation and strengthens your immune defenses. I believe that drinking lemon water every morning, spiced up with cayenne pepper (which is another natural antibacterial ingredient), has helped to prevent me from getting colds and the flu, among other health benefits.
As a family, we love to spend time outdoors. We take long walks and bike rides on sunny days. This is great for your immune system as well! When your skin is exposed to sunlight it naturally produces vitamin D — this is why it’s called the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Keeping your vitamin D levels in a healthy range has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting the flu, colds, and other respiratory infections too… so it has hidden benefits that many people don’t think about.
I believe that a combination of these factors help my family stay healthy and of course I take all my Truvani supplements. It’s definitely a lifestyle, and not an ‘easy fix’. But once you get into the groove and find what you like, it’s really enjoyable living this way!
Q: Life for parents right now is complex as they juggle work, homeschooling, household and meal prep. As a parent to a small child (with another on the way) and also as an extremely busy entrepreneur — how do you juggle it all? What’s your philosophy for keeping it manageable, yet setting up families for healthy eating success?
Luckily, our lifestyle has been not too impacted by the pandemic, so I am just continuing as normal. I freeze a lot of staples, things like homemade pancakes, waffles, muffins, soups and tortillas — this helps tremendously with meal prep. In Food Babe Kitchen, I share all the tips on how I do this plus how I warm up all this food without a microwave and store it without using plastic.
Q: How has being home these past months shifted your relationship to food, food systems, meal prep? Any surprises in your world? What are your non-negotiables when it comes to food?
Everyone has a horror story from a few months back when there were massive walls of empty shelves in grocery stores. But when I walked into my local store, I was shocked. I saw more fruits and vegetables than anything else left in the store. The produce section was fully stocked.
This was a signal to me that we still live in a very sick world. We are relying on processed foods to feed our bodies. We all should be more vigilant about eating as many fruits and vegetables as we can — and avoiding processed foods (especially those with added sugar) to keep our immune systems strong.
Eating vegetables every day is non-negotiable to me. We include them at every meal! I understand fresh fruit and vegetables spoil more quickly than a box of Pizza Rolls — but if you freeze or jar your produce properly you can enjoy it for a very long time.
And you will get so much more value in terms of your health, which is priceless.
This is why the timing for Food Babe Kitchen couldn’t be better. It will show people how to ditch the unhealthy processed foods and get back into their own kitchens again. There’s no better time than the present to take great care of your body and what you put in it!
Q: If you could wave your magic wand and eliminate one thing in our food system what would it be? And what’s the one thing you’d like to see eliminated from our pantries? What would you insert in its place?
Ooooh, this is an interesting question. There are so many chemicals used in our food system that I’d love to see eliminated because of the pain and disease that they cause. If I had to pick just one, I’d say artificial colors. These are so prevalent and thousands of children eat them daily. This makes me so sad, because parents want the best for their children, but don’t realize the health risks of these dyes.
Artificial colors require a warning label in Europe that says they ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’, and that’s why they are hardly used in those countries. Some countries, like Norway and Austria, have taken it a step further and banned artificial colors, but the U.S. still allows them with no warning. This allows companies like Kellogg’s to continue producing cereals for children like Froot Loops and Apple Jacks with artificial colors in the U.S. market, while they make similar cereals overseas without them.
Kellogg’s made a big announcement in 2015 that they’d remove the dyes in the U.S. by 2018, but they never did. And, they continue creating new cereals for children, like Baby Shark Cereal, which is made with five different artificial colors. It is unconscionable to me that they would market products with these risky ingredients to toddlers. This is what prompted me to petition Kellogg’s, asking them to replace artificial colors in all of their cereals with safer alternatives (FoodBabe.com/BabyShark).
I truly believe if consumers knew that these colors are derived from petroleum, what they do to their bodies and how they have been shown to affect children, they would not want to eat them.
We clearly still have so much work to do and need to keep spreading the truth.
The good news is that artificial colors are completely unnecessary. You can still make colorful food (with all the colors of the rainbow) by using real food ingredients like turmeric for yellow or spirulina for blue.
Q: What do you think the biggest challenge people face is when it comes to healthy eating — what’s the pitfall? Is it overwhelm? Lack of knowledge? Access to healthy food?
People put their trust in food corporations and diet companies to tell them how to eat. Right after a health crisis in my early 20s, the first thing I wanted to do was lose weight and look better. At first, I believed what everyone else around me was saying and looked to everyone else for answers. They told me I needed to count calories or points, carbs, and fat grams. Although I followed their plan, I always found myself struggling to maintain my weight. Their advice left me with no energy and feeling hungry all the time.
Everything I believed for most of my life was turned upside down as I investigated and looked deeper into what I was really eating. One day it all clicked!
My biggest lesson learned was that I cannot outsource my health or my food.
I could not continue letting the food industry dictate for me what was healthy. I could not continue trusting ‘diet programs’, and I most definitely could not trust marketing from food companies and restaurants to help me make my food decisions. As a result, I started to learn how to cook and prepare my own food at home as much as possible.
Learning to cook wasn’t easy for me at first. There was a lot of trial and error! But countless cooking shows and cookbooks later, I’ve taught myself how to create healthy meals with real, whole food ingredients. I’ve never felt better, and I want everyone to feel this way! This is why I cannot wait for everyone to get a copy of Food Babe Kitchen and start making these changes in their own lives.
Q: Where do you struggle and what’s your workaround?
I’ve got a sweet tooth! When I was a child I loved candy. I always found a way to have some on me, somewhere, hiding in secret cabinets or in my pockets. A lot has changed since then, and now I enjoy sweets in a healthy way — everything from Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate chip cookies can be made without artificial ingredients that come with a long list of potential health risks. Food Babe Kitchen has all my favorite dessert recipes, including the strawberry birthday cake that I made for my daughter’s 3rd birthday that is colored pink with real strawberries! This cake was a hit at her party, and guests commented that they liked it better than the bakery cupcakes I also served that day. Real food really is more delicious than anything artificial and made in a factory.
Q: What is your wish that we takeaway with this book?
Food Babe Kitchen is a deeply personal project and the most fun book I’ve ever written. It includes all of my go-to recipes that I make with my family at home, and even my mom’s favorite recipes that I grew up with and love so much today. If there is anything that spells out what I’m passionate about, this is it! It brings me so much joy to be able to share a glimpse of this happiness with you. My hope is to show people how to make quick, easy, REAL food meals for their families—and that they love this way of life as much as we do.
About Vani Hari:
Named as one of the “Most Influential People on the Internet” by Time Magazine, Vani Hari is the revolutionary food activist behind foodbabe.com, co-founder of organic food brand Truvani, New York Times bestselling author of, The Food Babe Way, and Feeding You Lies.
You may also enjoy reading Interview: Vani Hari | The Truth about the Lies We’re Fed, by Kristen Noel