Lesson 1208 – The Food Babe Way – book review

food babeLet’s address the elephants in the room right now. Vani Hari, author of the blog Food Babe and the book The Food Babe Way is not a scientist. She’s also not a science writer, as is evident in several places in the book where she lapses into bloggerese like – “I can totally relate…”

And she does make some sweeping political statements like – “Later, when I read Vilsack’s speech, I was reminded that he is a bureaucrat and not a man willing to go against his financial ties to protect the rights and health of American People.”

But to be fair, Hari never claims to be a scientist, or a medical writer, or an unbiased political reporter, in fact, she very clearly states up front- “I’m just a regular person who got tired of being a victim to big food companies and got the courage to speak the truth.” She uses her own personal experience of literally getting sick from processed food as the inciting incident for change.

So while she does not have “official credentials”, (or at least the credentials her attackers are saying she needs) it doesn’t mean that her message is wrong. We know chemicals in food are bad. We all do. It’s common knowledge, and yet we *still* stop by McDonald’s or Subway (if we’re in the mood for something healthy) for meals. We still buy our kids snacks and candy that contain an alphabet of chemicals, sodas that include preservatives, and meats that are filled with antibiotics and hormones.

Part of the reason we do this is simply because of convenience, it’s there, we know it will taste exactly as we expect it will. Another part of the reason is that we don’t have the time to do the research or cook the meals – when you work a full time job, have to get the kids to where they need to do, shop for and prepare dinners, it can be, and often is, overwhelming. We know that our food choices are bad, but we’ll do something about it tomorrow when we have more time.

Well guess what? Tomorrow is here and you don’t have to do the work because Hari is doing it for you. Through her blog and her “online army” Hari has been able to do things like get Kraft to stop using food dye (that was long removed in European products) in their American Mac and Cheese. Hari has done research on several foods, collected evidence that the chemicals could be dangerous and she’s gotten companies like Chick-fil-A, Subway, Chipotle, and Starbucks to CHANGE!

That’s pretty impressive work for “just a regular person.”

Lately Hari has been attacked in the news for not being a scientist. Again, she never said she was, but do you have to be a scientist to do extensive research, compile data, and present facts? Is that a job relegated only to scientists? I fear that the reason she is being attacked may be more for the message than it is for the messenger. Food companies are starting to notice Hari. If she runs a campaign against them, they would have to respond and either change their food or lose customers. That’s big money from big food which is why some big guns are being pulled out.

Hari’s book, The Food Babe Way (okay another elephant, I so wish she hadn’t chosen the name Food Babe for her blog, but she started her blog years ago and wanted a catchy name, I don’t like it, but I get it) is divided into 3 parts, the first part talks about all the chemicals you are eating in a typical American diet and she also tells you (based on collected research reports, as well as personal anecdotes), the possible effects of those chemicals on the human body.

Look, I do have a degree in medical biology, I’ve worked as a clinical microbiologist, I’ve written scientific and medical articles, and I think much of what Hari has to say is ultimately sound. We shouldn’t be feeding ourselves and children food dyes, antibiotics, hormones, and stabilizers. It goes beyond being scientific and lands squarely in the common sense court. It’s difficult to not be alarmed when reading about what is really in our food – as it should be.

The second part of Hari’s book is a 21-day program that introduces a life-long health habit each day. Things like cut out the soda, giving up refined sugar, and eating less meat and eating it responsibly. All very good health habits that should be considered. Even the somewhat alarming “fasting habit” simply boils down to this, eat meals on a schedule and don’t snack in between – much of this is the common sense that gets so lost in our hectic lives.

Lastly, Hari includes a 21-day food plan filled with tons of recipes for “real food.” Real food means nothing processed, no sugar, limited dairy, clean meat, and little to no alcohol. Guess what? This is the very same diet my Lyme doctor has advised me to use for managing my Lyme disease. It’s a diet meant to help your body be healthy.

Some of Hari’s opinions are just that, opinions, and as the reader you are free to take or leave them as you wish, however, her overall message that processed food is making us all very, very sick and that there are things we can do about it is spot on. It’s safe to say that if you eat the Standard American Diet, you need to read this book. I appreciate the work Hari did in compiling this information into The Food Babe Way so that we can all learn from her work and change what and how we eat.

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Note: I was sent an advance copy of the Food Babe Way to review. I am not being compensated for my review, my opinions are my own.

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Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

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23 Comments

Filed under Life Lessons, Mama Hen, New Hampshire, Personal, Teaching kids, The Family

23 responses to “Lesson 1208 – The Food Babe Way – book review

  1. Kevin

    “We know chemicals in food are bad. We all do.”

    Woah, stop. You claim to have a degree in a biological field, yet you think that “chemicals in food are bad”? Do you not realize that chemicals are in… everything? Literally everything. Furthermore, every chemical has a toxic dosage, even H20 (water). What is important is that we consume chemicals (which again are in everything, because everything is made of chemicals) in safe quantities. Just like drinking too much water can be fatal, so can consuming too much NaCl (salt) or Theobromine (chocolate, tea, cola). Thankfully there are several organizations world-wide who regulate these tolerances, and reckles, uneducated activism from folks like Vani Hari are getting in their way. The more uninformed people rally for the banning of perfectly safe substances, the more companies will decide it’s better for their bottom line to kow tow and remove them; the problem this poses is that there will not always be a good alternative, so foods are losing valuable preservatives – making it so they do not keep long enough to reach the literally starving people who need them – or otherwise they are being replaced with substances that may actually be more harmful, but about which we all know less.

    Something else you wrote got my attention: “It goes beyond being scientific and lands squarely in the common sense court.”

    If you have any scientific background, you should know that “common sense” is horribly inaccurate. It was “common sense” that made us believe that the world was flat and that the sun went around us rather than us going around it, and scientific understanding showed us the truth. I can also see how “common sense” would tell you that putting substances we don’t know in our body is bad, but that is also a false assumption. I’m betting you can’t name all the chemicals in an apple from memory, but that doesn’t mean that eating one will kill you. Oh, and by the way, one of those ingredients is a cyanide compound.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Kevin,

      Thank you for your comment, I always invite discussion.

      If you honestly feel there is no damage in eating processed food that is filled with dyes and preservatives, then go ahead and eat them – this is America, no one is stopping you.

      As for me and my family, we choose to eat food that is as clean as possible. We have chickens for fresh eggs and we belong to a CSA where we get local produce. We’ve cut way back on sugar. I try to get pasture-fed meat and butter. I cook from scratch as much as possible and I, long ago, cleared the cupboards of “green applesauce” and store-bought cookies for my kids.

      This is how we choose to live, just as you are free to choose the way in which you want to live.

      Wendy

      On Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 10:10 AM, Lessons Learned from the Flock wrote:

      >

      • Wendy,

        I appreciate that you invite discussion, but you actually didn’t respond to anything I wrote, which is one requirement for a discussion.

        I don’t really care what you eat or why you choose to eat it, nor do I care about the same for Vani Hari. And I’m not saying that in a divisive, angry way; I mean only that it doesn’t affect me, so you can eat what you like. I’m not at all attempting to tell you what you can or can not eat, and I’m not even sure what I wrote that would prompt you to defend your rights to do so.

        What I do care about is people, such as yourself, making categorical statements like “chemicals in food are bad.” That statement, which you made, is flatly false. No debate; it is untrue, and the proof is simple: water is a chemical found in many foods, water is not harmful in reasonable quantities, therefore not all chemicals in food are harmful. Now, I think it’s understandable to assume that you didn’t mean “all” chemicals, since literally all food is made of chemicals, but you didn’t write “some chemicals in food are bad,” you simply wrote “chemicals in food are bad.” Taking you at your word, this is a blanket statement that, as I’ve shown, is not true. Now people make false blanket statements all the time, but what bothers me about this one in particular is that, unlike Vani Hari, you actually did cite scientific credentials, and then made a statement that was scientifically flawed. People who aren’t scientifically versed might read this and think that your statement is correct, and as an educator, this concerns me deeply.

        But as I’ve suggested so far, I’m fairly sure that you don’t actually think “chemicals in food are bad.” You seem like a rational, intelligent person, so I trust that this was simply an ill-advised choice of words, and you realize that chemicals in food are actually quite a good thing, because otherwise there would be no food at all. It may be then that you meant “additional chemicals” are bad, but this falls apart almost as quickly. Take salt for example: it was probably the first ever chemical additive, used to preserve meat and butter for travel. Certainly salt can be harmful in excess (just as water can be, remember) but that doesn’t mean that any salt at all is bad. Some salt is good, too much is not good. Pretty simple. And this is true of most chemical compounds, and certainly true of all the chemicals that are legal to put in food. Some are there for our benefit – like adding calcium to orange juice to promote bone health in children who dislike (or have a medical aversion to) milk – while other chemicals are simply neutral, doing neither good nor bad – like the additives used to turn butter yellow, instead of its natural white. This is the important thing that I hope people learn, and I worry your writing might stifle: not all chemical additives are harmful. If you prefer not to eat foods with added chemicals, that is fine by me, but telling people that they are absolutely, categorically bad is dangerous and deceitful. Some people actually need those chemical additives, such as people in poor, remote regions of the globe who need the food to keep for days or weeks before it gets to them. Without added preservatives, these people may starve to death. It’s very easy, as a middle-class American to forget that not everyone has the options you have.

        One final concern I have is the insinuations in your language. Specifically your statement that you “choose to eat food that is as clean as possible.” This is subtly suggesting that there is “clean” food, and “dirty” food, and that’s insincere at best. The only requirement for food to be “clean” is to wash it, so it would stand to reason you mean something other than clean, and I suspect what you actually mean is “unprocessed.” You nearly said as much in your reply, actually. The problem here is that suggesting that “processed” food is unhealthy, or otherwise undesirable, is almost as vague and sweeping as suggesting that chemicals in food are bad. Pasteurization is a process, and a valuable one which has saved millions of lives by killing off dangerous microbes and pathogens. So again, this one example proves that not all processed foods are bad. These black-and-white attitudes help nobody. Some chemicals are good, some aren’t. Some processes are helpful, some are wasteful. It might not make for as catchy a headline, but I’d prefer people educate themselves on the costs and benefits of each prospective food additive, rather than go on crusades against all additives unilaterally.

        You’ve said that eating unprocessed foods with limited additives is how you choose to live, and that is fine with me. I would however hope that in the future you also choose to be more honest (and studies) in your writing.

      • Wendy,

        Again, yo. literally did not respond to a single thing I wrote. In fact, you responded to things that other people have written (the BHT controversy, for example) while skipping over my points about some chemical additives and food proccesses being beneficial. I have to give you credit for staying on message though; never answer the questions asked, always answer the questions you wish were asked.

      • Wendy Thomas

        That’s because I *was* responding to someone else. That last reply of mine was intended to be a reply to Mark’s comment, not to yours.

        I can’t reply to your comment because I find it to be as ludicrous as you appear to find mine. We’re going to have to agree to disagree (as much as I dislike that phrase.)

        And my name is Wendy, not yo.

      • Wendy,

        I didn’t say that I found your statements ludicrous; in fact, I gave you the benefit of the doubt in guessing that when you said “chemicals in food are bad” you were being hyperbolic. If you actually do think that chemicals in food are bad, then yes, I think that is ludicrous, and insanely dangerous, since literally 100% of food is made of chemicals.

        I’m also quite sorry that you think my statements – that not all chemicals in food are bad, and that some processed food is good – are ludicrous. These statements are facts, and I suppose you can find facts ludicrous, but it doesn’t stop them from being true. Not all chemicals in food are bad. Water is the easiest and most laughably obvious example; sodium chloride is a close second. Some processed food is good. I already gave you the example of milk being boiled to kill dangerous bacteria, but another excellent one is pickling cucumbers to increase shelf life, whereby brine or vinegar serve as preservatives.

        And I know your name is Wendy; I addressed every comment. The sequence of characters “yo.” was a somewhat obvious typo for “you” I thought.

  2. Jenn

    To each their own- but I have to agree with Wendy on this one. My personal preference is that I know what is in my family’s food and how it was handled before it got to my cupboard or freezer. That’s why everyone in my family has a garden and we do our own canning & freezing throughout the summer and fall and then share it among ourselves in the winter when it’s harder to eat seasonally. That’s why I make EVERYTHING from scratch (and possibly why my son doesn’t like eating away from home, lol!). Thats why all of our meat and eggs either come from our own back yard, the local butcher, or from the farms that belong to our friends and family. I’m thankful that I’ve got the knowledge, skills and resources to live this way (*a big shout out to my family and 4H leaders!*) instead of relying on Big-Food for everything that goes into my cupboards. I just don’t trust the crap they put in our food to get it from one side of the country to the other!

    Also, I’ve never understood the point of adding food coloring, chemical preservatives and artificial flavorings. It seems like a waste of time, money and effort to me. Isn’t it better that we know what our food naturally looks and tastes like? I mean, honestly- a green bean is already green and tastes like a green bean when you take it off the bush. Why does it need to be greener and taste like something other than a green bean just to get people to eat it?

    Oh. That’s right. Because our society in general has lost touch with what food looks and tastes like and doesn’t stop to consider where it comes from. That needs to change. In a hurry.

    Thanks for the book review! I’m heading to the library right after I pull the bread out of the oven!

  3. Pingback: Lesson 1209 – Doing the best I can | Lessons Learned from the Flock

  4. Pingback: Tilting at Controversy | Live to Write - Write to Live

  5. IMHO, the greatest problem with Vani Hari is her hypocrisy. In the midst of her Kellogg’s/General Mills BHT campaign, she has been affiliated with a company selling over a dozen BHT-laden products–since July, 2012. She lied about the BHT publicly but quietly pulled the item from her web site (but not other venues) when confronted.

    https://badscidebunked.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/bht-product-purchased-from-foodbabe-com-hari-incorrect-about-ingredients/

    This is not an accident. Nearly every product sold by Hari contains an ingredient she claims is dangerous. The most obvious offenders are her cosmetics, which contain the same endocrine disruptors that her so-called research says are so dangerous (and therefore used to slander competing products).

    If you have the science background that you say (and I have no doubt that you do), then you should easily be able to pick out all the IARC group 2B carcinogens in the foods in her recipes and the ingredients in her recommended products.

    I appreciate your desire to eat healthy and avoid products that are bad for you, but I fear that a far more critical eye needs to be cast on Food Babe. The fact that scientific consensus is against her is secondary to my argument here. The fact is that she is hypocritical and guilty of the very same things of which she’s accusing others.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Mark,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Although there does seem to be some hypocrisy – from what I gather the BHT you are referring to was in a brown sugar scrub which was a cleansing product and not intended for consumption – your point is well made. If you are fighting against an additive, you should be consistent .

      However, my concern is that we might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Because Hari is not a scientist, because she writes from a place of passion, and because she has made mistakes (the product has been pulled from her website, correct?) people are discounting her *entire* message.

      As a person with a chronic illness and the mother to 4 children with chronic and auto-immune illnesses, *and* as someone who has a fair understanding of how the body and immune systems work, I can say that I agree with her statements that we should eliminate as many added chemicals in our daily diet as possible. Added chemicals tax a system and if that system is already weakened, why on earth would you tax it even more? This is not a new message, I hear it from my doctor every time I have a visit – he tells me to not eat anything that comes in a package, to eat as close to the source, drink clean water, reduce or eliminate sugar, watch the dairy, reduce or eliminate alcohol, to eat clean meat, to exercise, and to get an adequate amount of sleep (and yes, my doc is a keeper.)

      It’s actually a good, solid bit of advice from which everyone could stand to benefit.

      Does Hari use sensationalism? Yes. Does she use passion in her writing? Yes. Is she opinionated? Yes.

      But again, she never claimed to be an unbiased journalist. She is entitled to her opinions.

      Should you ignore her every message? I’d have to say no. She’s getting people to notice what’s in their food. Much like Spurlock did with “Supersize Me” (remember the outcry when that one came out?) Hari is getting people to pay attention to what they eat.

      Ultimately this is a good thing.

      And by the way, you are the second person to (mildly) question my medical scientific background. Good Lord man, do you know what a clinical microbiologist does? We are the ones who take your body samples (urine, fecal, throat, vaginal, penal, wound, blood etc.) and we culture them out to see what bacteria is growing in or on your body.

      I assure you, I have done my time in the laboratory trenches.

      Wendy

  6. This was a very interesting discussion and I think that credit goes to Vani; this is what she is good at. Personally, I like my information on this stuff to come from a scientist. That is why I didn’t take Food Babe at face value. I continued to read on the topic and found the book Wheat Belly that is written by a doctor. He has more information on the insulin/blood sugar cycle than I’d ever thought existed. Also, the article, Sugar, in National Geographic Magazine is an eye-opener.

  7. The Food Babe may promote some healthy ideas, but her methods of finding things out just as often lead her to very unsound conclusions. She told people not to get the flu vaccine, and she’s frequently railed against genetic modification of food, which has been heavily researched and found to be safe (http://geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/with-2000-global-studies-confirming-safety-gm-foods-among-most-analyzed-subject-in-science/). She also pushes for organic food even though the weight of the evidence right now does not support the idea that organic food leads to better health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875). We can’t ignore these major missteps when evaluating her impact.

    • Wendy Thomas

      As one who’s immune system is compromised due to a chronic disease, I don’t get flu shots and neither do my kids who also have illness. I personally believe that if you are a strong, healthy adult, you don’t need a flu shot. The problem, of course, is that Americans, on the whole, aren’t the healthiest people in the world. For many of our obese and unhealthy citizens, getting the flu could mean a hospitalization. So while *we* choose to not get the flu shot, I do see it’s necessity for the very young, the very old, and the compromised (weight, lung, diabetes, etc.) populations.

      With regard to GMOs, *I* believe that the jury is still out. Even if you don’t believe there is a nutritional difference, there appears to be an environmental impact, specifically with regard to bees. Some of these GMO plants are designed to use less fertilizer which is taking a toll on the nitrogen content of the soil. There needs to be a lot more work done in this area.

      Organic vs non-organic – I think the general advice to avoid as many added chemicals in food as possible is sound. Would you rather eat a piece of meat that contains antibiotic, pesticide and hormone residues or would you rather eat a piece of organic meat, or milk, or fruit that does not? I choose to eat the organic if given a choice.

      I want to remind my readers that I did not write The Food Babe Way, I am a writer and a book reviewer who was asked to review Hari’s book. My review is based on my impressions of the book which, in my opinion is well executed. She has certainly gotten people’s attention and she has started a national discussion of what we eat. This is exactly what any author hopes for.

      Wendy

      • Unfortunately, the science is strongly against you on the “healthy people don’t need vaccinations issue.” But to stick to the point I made when I replied to your book review: nearly every product sold by Vani Hari has the same so-called dangerous ingredients she’s warning you of in her book and blog posts. The #BHT scandal is only one sad example.

        Again, I compliment and respect your desire to have a healthy environment for everyone, but your faith in Vani Hari is, I believe, misplaced. I repeat my respectful challenge that you simply sit down with the products for sale on FoodBabe.com, look at the ingredients, and then compare to what Ms. Hari has said about those ingredients. You will find a plethora of IARC group 2B carcinogens along with nearly all of the endocrine disruptors she warns about.

        I cannot *force* you to do this research, but politely suggest that if you do not, then the admiration you have expressed for Food Babe as a source of reliable information is going to cast you in a very negative light as her double standards become more widely known.

      • She called flu shots toxic because she didn’t like the ingredient list. That’s different from recognizing that not everyone can get one.

        The jury may still be out in the court of public opinion, but that doesn’t affect the evidence on the safety of GMOs. See the reports from the American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/assets/meeting/2012a/a12-csaph-02.pdf), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (http://www.aaas.org/news/statement-aaas-board-directors-labeling-genetically-modified-foods), and the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/). As to the effects on the environment, I haven’t looked into that closely but will; however, it’s not part of a nutrition conversation. (From my initial reading, though, it seems that a very specific type of insecticide, not GMOs themselves, is said to be dangerous to bees. And how would less fertilizer be bad for the environment?)

        As to organic food, if a systematic meta-analysis of hundreds of studies doesn’t affect your decision-making, then I’m not sure what else to say. I think that personal belief and what we think of as common sense are less compelling than the work of experts who have devoted their lives to exactly these investigations.

        There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, but when those questions affect the health of a huge number of loyal fans, one is ethically compelled to listen to the criticisms of experts in the field. Hari has a history of standing her ground against these kinds of criticisms, which I find worrisome. The point of asking questions is to learn, not to push preconceived beliefs.

      • Wendy Thomas

        Sarah,

        Wanted to let you know that your comments are going into moderation not for your message but because you are including links which flag the moderation mode, as you can see, I’m approving them as they come along. As a writer, I’m a bit of a stickler for that little freedom of speech thing. You are welcomed to state your opinion and you’ve done a good job of just that.

        One point you made: “I think that personal belief and what we think of as common sense are less compelling than the work of experts who have devoted their lives to exactly these investigations.” I see that you have not delved into the world of chronic Lyme disease and related co-infections (a personal favorite of mine.) Lyme disease is a perfect example of science gone wrong. While you accuse me of not embracing scientific reports, I sit in the seat of highly questioning the ethics and validity of some published reports with regard to Lyme disease. Too often money (and sponsorship) sways the results of studies.

        Just because you wear the crown of scientist, it doesn’t mean your work is infallible.

        I think your point that one should always ask questions is true, not only of Hari, but also of some of the “proven truths.”

        Anyway, you’ve raise some valid points. I am neither a defender of Hari’s or an opposer. I reviewed her book and I tried to do a balanced review. *I* believe that she makes some valid points. She also has some views that I’m not particularly in agreement with, but I will defend her and your right to freely speak your minds to my death.

        Wendy

      • I absolutely agree that some scientists compromise the validity of their work in order to get ahead. I work in scientific publications, and it frustrates me to no end that some selfish individuals are willing to undermine the public’s trust. I hate that even one liar weakens the entire institution and its entire history of contributions. I look forward to reading more about Lyme disease.

        Fortunately, science demands replication of results, and over time, the truth tends to prevail.

        Thanks for your responses.

  8. Thank you Wendy for an honest review. I look forward to reading this book soon!

  9. A fascinating discussion is wotth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you need to write more about this issue,
    it may not be a taboo subject but generally people don’t speak about such subjects.
    To the next! Cheers!!

  10. Frank

    “We know chemicals in food are bad. We all do. It’s common knowledge”

    You are aware literally everything is a chemical, right? If you feel so strongly about consuming chemicals the only option you have is to stop eating.

    • aqilaqamar

      I think she pretty much meant the cultural synonym for the word “chemical” as in well that it something harmful in an additive or something that is genetically engineered or unstable. Same word goes for “atomization” we are all build up of atoms but atomization obviously refers to classically a reductionist or undermined situation. If you don’t like her statements I respect that but your statement is kinda well a bit too annoyed. And to be honest not everywhere in the world do they use food additives or chemicals. In many geographical locations urbanism and massive consumerism which comes with massive urbanism has made really harmful, life threatening chemicals enter foods to make them look “fresh” or even ripen them before their time. Many people suffer for that because they don’t live in countries that are allowed to develop research centers as involved as some others also because people do not wish to think that the chemical or genetically engineered foods are actually part of their society. And that is understandable not backwards because their culture even media do not really present that as much so their collective mindset may not fully register that the foods have chemical tampering in them. No one is telling you to stop eating foods you want or me but at the end of the day we both have to live with our own healths too. I know some chemicals are not really much of a bother. I think finding other solutions or alternatives is not a bad thing either. We have to be open minded especially if we are in a banquet of systemic eating.

  11. aqilaqamar

    Even the comedy movie “Undercover brother” used food company and chain restaurants as a part of a pattern that destabilizes people. Can we say that it is a comedy movie so what it said has no merit? I think people put too much false confidence on titles rather than actual qualities. I don’t need to remind people here that old age mathematicians and scientists including Galileo hardly had that title. A noted person who studied genetic transmission was by trade a priest and much of his work he later destroyed which is now mourned for in the biology world because he was not taken seriously as a priest who studied biology. I mean start treating people as people, as people with plural titles and attributes instead singular stereotypes. I am happy Wendy Thomas wrote this article.

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