This is an open letter of sorts to Vani Hari (aka FoodBabe). I’m just some punk kid but I have some insider info on Kevin Folta that Vani may be interested in.
Dear Vani Hari,
I think a part of the story may be missing in the results of your FOIA request1 on Dr. Kevin Folta for mentions of you in his correspondence.2 There’s something I feel I must disclose about what he told me in person about you. First a bit of background so you might better understand the context for the shocking thing he said.
This silly picture of me smelling Kevin3 was taken in 2014 after our dinner at a vegan restaurant. I live in Chicago and Kevin Folta grew up here too. Sometimes we get together for a brew or two if he happens to be in town. Kevin ordered an IPA and said “…or as I like to call them, ‘eepa.’” That’s Kevin for you. His quirky humor doesn’t always hit the mark but it’s fun nonetheless if not eye-roll-worthy.
I first discovered Kevin on a podcast where he talked about GMO.4 Being a vegan activist I was inherently anti-GMO cuz, um, it’s unnatural and icky! I chaired for our local EarthSave International chapter and handed out anti-GMO literature at a dozen events. But the way he talked about this issue blew my mind wide open. I immediately sent him an email asking for his advice on bringing that info to my Vegan Chicago group and he replied within hours! He even offered to do a talk for us when he might next be in town. We eventually did indeed do just that and the talk was recorded and posted on our Vegan Chicago Podcast.5 He treated the audience with such respect and consideration,6 addressing our specific concerns regarding the use of animals. We discovered uncharted intersections of biotech and veganism and it changed the course of my activism.
I’ve since learned Kevin is a true local and has a deep history with Chicago knowing all its nooks and crannies. He played in a local band or two, one being called the “Insane War Tomatoes.” Being a half generation behind him I never caught the blip his band might have made on the scene. But he reminisces fondly on those times and I swear everywhere we go somebody eventually says “Hey don’t I know you?” and he’ll respond “Yeah I’m Kevin and we…” and acquaintances find each other after what is probably a few decades. Amazing. He has a buddy who owns this venue or works at that bar, the dude is connected (still!) and people like him. He’s a surprisingly multifaceted guy.7
Kevin’s made up of the raw Heartland material forged in the city of broad shoulders that’s so familiar to me. Down to earth, unpretentious and good-hearted. It seems that Chicagoans who tear themselves away from the Midwest often do well elsewhere. My geekier friends explain this as the photonucleic effect and maybe that explains Kevin’s move to the sunshine state. He’s in his element though exuding passion for his work and advocacy efforts. I used to assume it was his smarts and scientific training that made him a magnetic science communicator, but seeing the more personal side of him, I’ve come to realize it’s the other way around. It’s his genuine personality and warm heart that makes up the engine that drives him.
What Kevin Folta Confided to Me About You
That last time I saw him in person in December of 2014, like I said, Kevin spoke of you. I was driving him back to his hotel when he said something to the effect of ‘If she only understood the truth she would be a great ally for science advocacy’. I thought he was joking at first, but no, he was actually enthusiastic about you! Your passion and communication skills had him inspired. It’s something you both have in common after all. He believed in your sincerity and thought his outreach might find you like it’s done for so many others like myself. I was incredulous, it surprised me to see him speak so positively of you. I wished him luck but harbored little hope that his plan would work. 8
Since then, things obviously didn’t work out that way. I’ve seen him lose a little heart. He probably still clings, though, to some hope that the two of you have a chance to partner up to solve the world’s problems. But maybe you’ll be able to cherry pick something nasty from his emails. If there is, I wouldn’t begrudge him any frustration. He’s just a person, like every other scientist. Your attack on Kevin Folta doesn’t worry me as I’m sure it doesn’t so much worry him. What does worry me is the compounding pile of devotees inspired by you and others who take things too 9 far10 with threats of personal violence11 and the chilling effect that will have on current and future science communicators.
I hope this doesn’t cause Kevin further stress or embarrassment (sorry Kevin). I feel like much of what usually concerns you, Vani, does so because you only see a small piece of the puzzle. Context is so important, and when you step back to see the big picture the world is a particularly marvelous and awe-inspiring place. Let’s put the rest of the pieces in, together.
- The Shocking Email From Monsanto: Why I am submitting a FOIA request | FoodBabe ↩
- The FOIA Babe, and the New Abuse of Vanity Harassment | Science 2.0 ↩
- Yes, that’s me smelling Kevin’s hair: Status of the Strategic Shampoo Reserve ↩
- #71 – Genetically Modified Foods: Science for the People ↩
- Episode #001 – GMOs with Kevin Folta, PhD | Vegan Chicago Podcast ↩
- Vegan Chicago Discussion board – PRE-TALK: Genetically-Modified Food Talk, POST-TALK: Genetically-Modified Food Talk ↩
- He invented the “Buzz(ed) Aldrin” drink that’s famous at skeptic and science events. ↩
- Though I also recommended he consider not doing the Joe Rogan podcast but he was undeterred and blew Joe Rogan away in an epic 3 hour-long interview. ↩
- Bringing My Dead Mother to their Disgusting Cause | Illumination ↩
- Now Posting in Craiglist | Illumination ↩
- Cyber Threats and Why I Remain Anonymous | It’s MomSense ↩