There are lots of things that are sexy about food. And right now, the sexiest thing to happen to food since chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne is Vani Hari, a North Carolina-based food blogger who has been blowing up the spot on some of the country's biggest food companies with her writings as the "Food Babe."
Hari, an amateur investigative reporter, began her blog dubbed "Food Babe" in April of 2011 with a mission to educate the American public about harmful or disturbing ingredients lurking in everyday food items.
Her goal: to help people make the "right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world."
Today, Hari has an estimated 3 million followers and has researched major food and beverage companies, including Whole Foods, Lean Cuisine, McDonalds, General Mills, Coca-Cola and Chipotle. She was featured on Good Morning America and Doctor Oz for her push to get Kraft to remove petroleum-based dye from its food and, while consulting with Chik-Fil-A, pushed the chicken-peddling chain to promise it will be 100 percent antibiotic-free within the next five years.
At the moment, Hari is best known for her research on the worlds largest fast food chain, Subway. In a June 2012 post, Hari revealed that Subway bread contains close to 50 ingredients, the most egregious of which is a chemical ingredient called azodicarbonamide. Used in the production of foamed plastics, she dubbed it "yoga mat" material, and made national headlines last month after successfully petitioning Subway to remove the ingredient from U.S. stores.
While her work is amiable, her most recent target hits at yet another series of fast food mega chains that serve one of our country's favorite foods: pizza. Specifically, nationally-known brands like California Pizza Kitchen, Dominos, and Papa John's. Her gripe? That fast food pizza franchise slices contain hidden ingredients including monosodium glutamate, or MSG.
In a blog that posted March 25 entitled "If You've Ever Eaten Pizza Before, This Will Blow Your Mind (Maybe Literally)," Hari begins a long diatribe, hammering restaurants like Little Caesars, California Pizza Kitchen and Mellow Mushroom, for refusing to answer questions about ingredients.
Hari goes on to list hydrolyzed protein and corn, hydrogenated oils, nitrates, modified food starch and even butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) among the many alarming ingredients used to make some of America's favorite slices. At the end of her investigation, Hari names only three pizza companies she would endorse for using clean ingredients: Truly Organic Pizza in Naples, North Carolina's Pure Pizza and Boca-based Pizza Fusion.
Attempts by Clean Plate Charlie to contact a Mellow Mushroom spokesperson were unsuccessful.
In a recent interview with Clean Plate Charlie, Pizza Fusion founder and CEO Vaughan Dugan said, "Our food landscape is evolving, and I'm excited to help influence that change. People from all walks of life are concerned about the quality and origin of their food, and our mission fulfills that need for cleaner, fresher and better options."
Dugan's Pizza Fusion franchise restaurants, which total 23 U.S. locations, received Hari's approval because their dough ingredients include organic wheat, water and organic olive oil. In addition, all meat toppings are hormone- and antibiotic-free, while most of the vegetables are both organic and locally-sourced. Occasionally, farmers and suppliers are unable to meet the company's needs due to a shortage of an item, or it being out of season. In that case, menus reflect the temporary change so customers can make informed choices.
"It makes us all very proud to be serving such a great quality product that people can truly trust," said Dugan. "But we can't take all the credit for the accolades. There are so many amazing pizza restaurants around the country serving good, clean food. You just have to ask the right questions, and don't settle for anything less."
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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