The Food Babe Army Draws Their Guns On Big Pizza

The Food Babe Army Draws Their Guns On Big Pizza

This Tuesday, Charlotte-based food writer, Vani Hari, conscripted her #FoodBabeArmy up in a call to arms against the pizza chains America loves to eat when she published the results of her investigation into the ingredients used by pizza franchises across the country. With Subway, Chick-fil-A, and other Big Food businesses backpedaling and stammering after Food Babe reports, Vani must have a lot of PR teams nervously-waiting to see who she dials her sights in on next. At this point, I’m not really shocked when I learn about the dubious ingredients used for conventional packaged foods or sourced by large restaurant operations. I’ve come to expect yoga mat bread or butane derivatives to be served by Subway (Eat Fresh!) or The Colonel. I didn’t expect to find Mellow Mushroom’s pizzas shadowed with suspicion. Vani’s latest article left me feeling incredulous.

Chipotle Pizza Oven

Should I be surprised Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s serve pizzas made with a Murderer’s Row of questionable ingredients? No, because back in college I delivered pizzas at a ramshackle Domino’s on Church St. in Burlington and the dough we used arrived pre-made each week in the back of a refrigerated tractor trailer. The dough balls showed up as sphere-shaped little globs made in some factory over yonder. I knew it wasn’t good for me then but I look back now with so much information at my fingertips and time has affirmed my suspicions.

Pizza should be really simple, right? A basic dough, olive oil, mozzarella or some other melting cheese, a tomato-based or white sauce, and whatever veggies and proteins your tastes desire. Add some spices. An oven. And presto! Flavor perfection. Filling, warm and savory, customizable. I love pizza.


But in reality, here is what you get when you order a pizza from places like CiCi’s, Domino’s, or Uno’s (among others so read the report at MSG hidden in everything from autolyzed yeast extract to hydrolyzed proteins, modified corn starch, partially-hydrogenated oils, disodium inosinate, maltodextrin, and a whole lot more GMO and chemical crap that doesn’t really sound like food at all. This isn’t a matter of calling salt sodium chloride and obfuscating simple names of foods. MSG and all its aliases are some serious offenders. If you don’t know about MSG here are the facts as reported by Hari,

“MSG and hidden MSG additives are known to commonly cause headaches, obesity and depression – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. As an excitotoxin, its effect on the brain is so toxic that it has been linked to learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Board certified neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D. warns that, ‘Excitotoxins have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth… It also causes a cancer cell to become more mobile, and that enhances metastasis, or spread… When you increase the glutamate level, cancer just grows like wildfire’.

This is serious stuff. But the industry will tell you it’s harmless and that you are crazy for being concerned.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is okay to eat this stuff occasionally, because these ingredients can stick around in your body for a long time, leach nutrients from your system, and can make you really sick. As put by my pal Kristen Michaelis at, ‘Not only is MSG not a traditional food, not only are many people immediately sensitive to it, but it can also interrupt the hormonal and biological development of children! Lest you think this is all fanciful, it’s important to remember that a number of studies have found that the effects of MSG can occur cumulatively over time with subsequent exposure.’”


Food Babe’s dedication to facts with links to sources and supporting data is refreshing in today’s media climate. Honesty in mainstream media is pretty rare considering companies like Papa John’s and McDonald’s keep the lights on at most of the five major media companies. Hari leaves little to conjecture and I’ve come to expect a couple new names to cross of the restaurant rotation after each of her reports. But what shocked me, what absolutely astounded me was seeing the Mellow Mushroom refusing to disclose anything but the bare minimum of information to Vani Hari. As she wrote in her article, “Little Caesars, California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) and Mellow Mushroom have all refused to answer my questions about their ingredients. I was told by Mellow Mushroom’s corporate offices that they will only comply with minimal government regulations, which require them to publish an allergen list.”



Let’s get right down to it. When I think of Mellow Mushroom, I picture jerk chicken pizza, anthropomorphic mushrooms, sweet sauce, great beer, a crunchy vibe, thick sour dough crust, gooey cheese, sitting in the school bus at the Selwyn location, hippies at the Asheville location, tap towers at the Ballantyne location. The last thing I think of is Mellow Mushroom being cagey about the ingredients used in their pizzas. They were one of the last places I thought might be loading their pies up with processed crap. Seeing how other players in the pizza industry behave, I can’t help but wonder why Mellow Mushroom doesn’t want to share more details. It is not like Vani was asking for the recipe or ratios of ingredients. According to The Food Babe, she received little information from Mellow Mushroom’s corporate office other than the statement “Soybean oil is a major ingredient in our pizzas.”


I’m hoping I don’t need to cross Mellow Mushroom off the restaurant rotation as well.

Say it ain’t so, Mellow Mushroom.

Are you concerned about the ingredients in the food supply? Do you think Mellow Mushroom and other restaurants should provide consumers with more thorough information about the ingredients served?

Sound off in the comments section.

By Mick
Dishing out observations on old favorites and new additions to my beloved Queen City's restaurant scene.


  1. The hysteria over MSG is totally overblown. I’ll listen to Chef David Chang (Momofuku) [] on the topic before the Food Babe. Her own website shows no indication of any scientific background, so she is just perpetuating antiquated notions.

    • Mick

      Great pen name and thanks for commenting. That was a cool experiment by Chang. My biggest takeaway was chefs can easily create the umami flavor associated with MSG by working with foods that contain/combine to form glutamic acid. Nothing wrong with glutamic acid in my book. It is one of the essential amino acids for life. In fact, pizza should already contain a high amount of glutamic acid and umami flavors from the cheese and tomatoes. So why dose the pizza with MSG that is overtly and covertly slipped into the ingredients list when the food already contains glutamic acid? Because it makes you want to eat more and more. Humans are suckers for umami. Plus when MSG manufacturers have their own lobby for buying off the idiots in elected office so they can purchase legislation, my BS meter red lines and I take nothing they say or sponsor at face value. After all, the former VP for Public Policy at Monsanto is now the Deputy Commissioner of Foods at the FDA.

  2. Disappointed to hear. Pizza dough should only contain flour, water, salt, and maybe a little OO, and maybe some herbs or spices. Of course that means your making it fresh in house.

    • Need yeast and some sugar too!

      • I did forget yeast. Duh. But no sugar

  3. Great article…Amazed at the mushroom. I had a lot more respect for them but that has definitely changed.

  4. Mellow Mushroom – What are you thinking? You will lose business. The people have spoken.

  5. This pisses me off. Why would Mellow Mushroom not publish whats in their dough? I get Papa John’s and Little Caesars but I really thought MM was different.

  6. I as the owner/operator of the three Charlotte area Mellow Mushrooms, I am happy to reply to concerns about out product. We are now, as we have always been, committed to serving wholesome, nutritious food and we’re very proud of the quality of product that we deliver to our guests. We make a strong effort to serve all-natural products anywhere possible. We do not publish our full ingredient lists because many of our products are proprietary recipes. However, if we receive inquiries about specific ingredients we will always make our best effort to address any of our guests concerns.

    Currently, the only product we serve which contains MSG is our lite ranch salad dressing. We also do not have azodicarbonimade in our dough or any of our other bread products. If there are any other ingredients you may be concerned about, please feel free to contact me directly. Feedback from our guests helps us to understand what is important to you, and assists us with guidance in our decision making processes.

    I would suggest taking a look at the website listed above that details Mellows philosophy about their menu and products they use.

    • Mick

      Marc, thanks for addressing some of the concerns about ingredients used in pizzas across the country. We’ll share your response with Vani Hari and discuss any follow-up questions.

    • Dave

      Thanks for clearing that up Marc. My family eats at your Selwyn location all the time. We love it.

    • So you will say what is not in the recipe but will not give a list of what is in there? Not asking for exact ingredient amounts which I understand you might want to keep to yourself, but like the pizza dough I buy at the grocery store…give me the list of what’s in there.

      • Mick

        Roger you have a point. Especially after the philosophy page on the Mushroom’s site says 100% natural, no flavor enhancers, no artificial ingredients, etc in the salad dressing and we learn the lite ranch contains MSG.

        Marc, we would also like to know:

        Do you use GMO wheat in your crust?

        What menu items have soybean oil as a major ingredient?

    • Hi Marc,
      I live in Atlanta and really like Mellow Mushroom restaurants. I wonder if MM carried hot wings when you spoke about MSG. Could you tell me if the buffalo wings in particular have added MSG? Thank you so much.
      Georgia Nagle

  7. Marc- very honorable of you to come on this forum and honestly address concerns people might have about your product. I hate it when people hide or are not transparent. The public likes stand up people.

  8. This. The second I hear it has been discounted by the “Food Babe” I think, “Lies, pseudoscience, utter nonsense.” If you are gullible enough to buy what she says? Keep your nose out of my plate.

    • Mick

      People put their nose in your plate? Strange way of eating. I would think that leads to a lot of sinus infections.

  9. “Food Babe’s dedication to facts with links to sources and supporting data is refreshing in today’s media climate. ”
    If only she knew what she was talking about and used actual data instead of an argument that goes, “LOOK HOW SCARY THIS INGREDIENT SOUNDS! SODIUM CHLORIDE!!! YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE SODIUM CHLORIDE IS USED FOR? OIL DRILLING AND ALUMINUM MANUFACTURING!!!”

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