'Food Babe' Takes Fight Against Kraft to Streets of Chicago

Food Blogger Escalates Her Battle Over Food Dyes Used in Mac & Cheese

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Vani Hari makes her case to consumers in Chicago.
Vani Hari makes her case to consumers in Chicago. Credit: E.J. Schultz

Maybe it was the unseasonably cold weather. Or perhaps people just don't want to eat food from a stranger. But food blogger Vani Hari got a fair amount of rejections Monday as she sought to persuade passersby in downtown Chicago to sample the U.K. version of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

The stunt, held outside a Jewel-Osco supermarket, was part of Ms. Hari's well-publicized effort to persuade the food giant to stop using artificial dyes in the version of the product sold in the U.S. Her point is that the U.K. version, which is called "Cheesey Pasta," does not have the dyes, which Ms. Hari believes are unhealthful. And the goal of Monday's "taste test" was to prove that the two versions taste the same by handing out tiny cups of the U.K version.

While plenty of people walked right by her, she was able to get roughly 10 people to gulp down a shot-glass size portion of the Cheesey Pasta in the span of about a half an hour. Most of them agreed with her that it tasted about the same as the U.S. version. Although one woman said that "for some reason this didn't taste as cheesy," before admitting that perhaps it was because she usually adds extra butter at home. Despite the sporadic response on the street, Ms. Hari got plenty of attention from where it matters most: the local media, including this TV news report.

After the taste test, Ms. Hari planned to deliver to Kraft's suburban Chicago headquarters what she said were more than 270,000 signatures on her petition that asks Kraft to remove the dyes yellow 5 and yellow 6 from the product. Ms. Hari, a North Carolina resident who calls herself the "food babe," filed the petition with Lisa Leake, who runs 100daysofrealfood.com.

The two bloggers allege that the dyes are "contaminated with known carcinogens" and "can cause an increase in hyperactivity in children." A study commissioned by food activist group Center for Science in the Public states that yellow 5 "may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals" and that yellow 6 "caused adrenal tumors in animals, though that is disputed by industry and the FDA." http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf

Media likes the story
Media likes the story Credit: E.J. Schultz

The British government in 2008 recommended but did not require that food manufacturers remove certain dyes from products by the end of 2009, citing evidence that "suggested a link between certain food colors and ADHD in children."

But in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has deemed the two yellow dyes to be safe. Kraft points to the FDA finding in this letter to "Mac & Cheese Lovers" posted on its website in response to the petition.

"You've been clear -- you love the great taste of your beloved Original Kraft Mac & Cheese just the way it is," the letter states. "And you don't want us to make changes that would affect the taste you expect. We hear you."

The marketer also lists several Mac & Cheese alternative varieties -- such as organic white cheddar -- that are made with "natural colors or no colors at all." The company did not respond to a request for comment on Ms. Hari's Chicago visit.

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