Zooey Deschanel Knows Nothing About Food Science

Hollywood actors and actresses play many roles on-screen, but apparently some of them believe they are Jacks-of-all-trades in the real world as well. They believe they can be UN Ambassadors, immunologists, and also food scientists. But just as you shouldn’t go to Angelina Jolie for advice about international diplomacy or to Jenny McCarthy for information about vaccines, so, too, don’t look to Zooey Deschanel for opinions about food science and safety.

Deschanel has launched a new web series on Facebook with Attn called The Farm Project, which claims to be about food; what it mainly seems to be about is the magic of vegan food, our societal obsession with plastic, and chemicals in our food. Taking a page out of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop” handbook, Deschanel reveals a tenuous grasp of the highly scientific field of food science in her posts. Most Americans, unfortunately, are susceptible to the fake science peddled by celebrities, as evidenced by the fact that Deschanel’s chemicals video already has over seven million views on Facebook.

Of the videos posted on The Farm Project, the one called, “The only thing stopping corporations from putting sketchy chemicals in our food is the honor system,” is particularly galling in its anti-science fear-mongering. At one point during the video, Deschanel rattles off a list of chemicals with long-sounding, scary names and jokes, “No, these aren’t spells you’d learn at Hogwarts.”

This is a classic technique of those who are too ill-informed to understand the chemistry behind food science, but not smart enough to realize it. One of Deschanel’s supposedly scariest claims was this: “Processed foods in America contains chemicals that are banned in Europe. You might assume that the government oversees everything we can buy in the grocery store and makes sure they’re safe. But you’d be wrong. The only thing stopping big corporations from putting sketchy chemicals in our food is the honor system.” Unlike Deschanel, I spoke to an actual food scientist, Linda Minkow, a Senior Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager at a major food company, who told me, “GRAS stands for generally recognized as safe. Companies convene a panel of recognized experts in chemistry and toxicology, who evaluate the published literature on the proposed food additive. Even if a GRAS assessment isn’t submitted to the FDA (also known as a self-assessment), the FDA can show up at the company’s door and demand to see it at any time.”

Another fantastic claim of Deschanel’s was this: “Sodium nitrite… as I like to call it ‘science salt.’ It’s found in hamburgers and hot dogs and according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it’s probably cancer-causing to humans.” Here is an unfortunate newsflash for Deschanel and her fans: Everything is probably cancer-causing to humans. Minkow told me, “And you know what IARC classifies as a known carcinogen, not just a probable one? Alcohol.”

Deschanel goes on to explain how one chemical can be found in both sandwich bread and yoga mats. Minkow, an actual scientist, explains, “just because a chemical is used in something OTHER than food, doesn’t mean it’s not safe for human consumption. Pickle brine and beet juice are used to pretreat roads before snowstorms. Vinegar is used in many homemade cleaning solutions and weed killers.” Think about high school chemistry for a moment: how often were some elements used in vastly different compounds? Oxygen is part of both the air you breathe and the water you drink.

The Farm Project hits a few bulls-eyes for liberal activists: a total misrepresentation and misunderstanding of science (of the food variety), and a strong distrust of government agencies (notably the Food and Drug Administration). What is most perplexing about this phenomenon is how eager these same individuals are to accuse conservatives of exactly the same offenses on other issues, like climate science.

What, exactly, is the goal of Deschanel’s fear-mongering? At the video’s close, Deschanel implores viewers to “Share this video if you think we have a right to know what corporations are putting in our food.” It’s not a push to force the FDA or food companies to adopt standards; those already exist. It’s instead yet another avenue to attack “big corporations”—a vague but easy target for pampered Hollywood celebrities, perhaps, but not a rational way to do anything useful to improve what Americans eat.

Image: Facebook

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23 responses to “Zooey Deschanel Knows Nothing About Food Science

  1. You make some good points and am similarly disparaging of celebrities using their fame to peddle pseudoscience. I would caution about throwing out all her claims, and considering each in turn, as these are the nuggets of truth upon which the nonsense hangs: There are indeed quite a few discrepancies between FDA and EU food regulations, with the FDA generally being more liberal about additives. Look up bleached flour, for example, and the cleaning of chicken carcasses and egg washing processing, which are not permitted EU-side.

    1. Doesn’t make the EU right though. They ban GMO foods in direct opposition to the science presented to them.

      1. GMO products are currently prevented from entering the food chain due to the lack of long term study regarding potential effects.

        It wasn’t that long ago the US would spray children directly with pesticides citing similar excuses.

        1. You’re peddling anti-science bullshit. GMOs were banned in Europe for political reasons, not scientific ones.

      2. The point wasn’t whether they were right or not, it was merely highlighting that the EU do indeed prohibit more additives than the FDA – so on that point she is correct.

  2. Processed foods in the US often *do* contain things that are generally banned in Europe and many more are processed using techniques that are deemed not up to standard for food intended for human consumption. Nothing to do with vegan lifestyle, just painfully low food standards.

    1. Got any examples of ingredients that are “often” used and banned in Europe, or processing techniques that are not up to standard for human consumption? Or are you just referring to the occasional uncommon ingredient that small parts of Europe have banned in a knee jerk reaction, and processing techniques that sound scary, but are generally recognised as safe throughout the world?

      1. Chlorine, bromides and peroxides are all not acceptable in the EU – in several EU countries this ban predates the EU legislation, for example in the UK. This for example means no bleached flour, which studies suggest influence type 1 diabetes (the bleaching process leads to the formation of toxic glucose analogues). Chlorine washing of meats and eggs is banned due to the potential for the formation of accumulative carcinogenic compounds, but more importantly because of the subsequent environmental effects of such chemicals entering waste water systems.

        Synthetic growth hormones aren’t allowed to be used with livestock – for example with dairy cows. Said hormones are still present in the milk, and the effects on people that subsequently consume it still aren’t well understood.

        A large number of colourants are banned on the basis that they’ve been shown to adversely affect people’s mood and behaviour, particularly children.

        There are also strict limits on the addition of hydrogenated oils (trans fats) due to links with heart disease and cancer.

        The list is pretty long, but these are just some obvious examples.

        1. they’re also based primarily on single studies or debunked science, which is not surprising because most of these decisions are based on politics and popular opinion, not science. for instance, numerous systematic reviews have found no significant difference in the hormone levels of milk produced by cows fed rGBH, so there can be no effect on people consuming it. it seems you’re spouting a lot of pseudoscience. the EU also bans growing GMOs, while importing them in rather large amounts, yet another decision not based on science, but primarily on protecting their native seed industries.

    1. unfortunately, many celebrities are using their fame to spread fear and misinformation, about subjects of which they are largely ignorant. these people are literally risking the lives of others by spreading bullshit. they deserve criticism, bashing, and/or whatever else you’d like to call it.

      1. I’m well aware of what some celebrities are doing. I just don’t think the general bashing is a good thing. This article has valid points, but they’re burdened with unnecessary vitriol.

    2. you mean Hedy Lamarr who died broke.. I was a huge fan growing up, so im not putting her down, I actually read her book, a great brain, lousy follow thru and veru careless, she may have understood radio frequency and had street smarts and moxie, but she died broke, like Tesla. She said of losing her vast wealth,(as I recall ) maybe about 10 mil (in those years) next time i’ll at least know the addresses of the buildings I own.

  3. I watched this video, but I can do my own research and I can think for myself. I also don’t feel the need to whine every time I hear something I don’t like. Celebrities are just people; not angels or demons.

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