David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe has made a career out of peddling misinformation, pseudo-science and bold-faced lies. Examining his claims more closely reveals his cynical lack of integrity.
For those unaware of who David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe is, he describes himself as a: “health, eco, nutrition and natural beauty expert”. Others have simply called him a scam artist. This article will investigate the seemingly innocent methods he uses to gain followers, making loads of money in the process.
People like him have existed for a long time now; Deepak Chopra is probably the best example of someone who uses his image of being genuine and being ‘at one with nature’ to sell very expensive things to naïve people. What differentiates David Wolfe from Deepak Chopra is his approach - his uniquely lazy way of promoting his hoo-ha with no regard for scientific evidence, facts, or anything related to the truth for that matter. Chopra tried to get his products and methods scientifically verified but failed miserably, but it at least shows some effort on his behalf to sound more convincing, and reach a wider, more skeptical audience.
What David Wolfe has demonstrated is that you don’t need to be scientifically credible at all to reach a wider audience. All you have to do is speak about things confidently, confuse your audience and invoke a sense of awe through the use of long, complicated words as well as occasionally claiming to have a lab.
With almost 6 million ‘likes’ on Facebook at the time of writing, David Wolfe has a much greater social media presence than Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson put together, which is why I find him so problematic. He isn’t just another arrogant, self-righteous, New Age ‘guru’, he is very influential to many people.
Before going on to dispute many of the things David Wolfe has claimed over the years, I would like to look at what kind of salesperson he actually is. My personal favorite ego loaded extract from his ‘about me’ section is the following:
“David “Avocado” Wolfe is the rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe. The world’s top CEOs, ambassadors, celebrities, athletes, artists, and the real superheroes of this planet—Moms—all look to David for expert advice in health, beauty, herbalism, nutrition, and chocolate!
…With over 20 years of dedicated experience and having hosted over 2750 live events, David has led the environmental charge for radiant health via a positive mental attitude, eco-community building, living spring water, and the best-ever quality organic foods and herbs.”
As you can see, he doesn’t hold back at all - he makes great claims with so much confidence that it might seem convincing to some. Most of the ‘live events’ Dave mentions are in fact conferences such as the “Longevity Now Conference” (at which he will speak in 2016, as he has done in previous years) where he mostly just sells the Nutribullet (an expensive, yet actually very good blender for which he is the official spokesperson) through infomercials disguised as a presentation.
This video on the official Nutribullet website is a good example, which humbly claims that instead of just blending your food, this product actually turns your food into a superfood. This sounds great, but considering that the nutrient content of food does not change after being blended, this is clearly just a sales technique.
He also repeatedly keeps calling himself an author. Though there are books in which he is credited as having written, they have been shown to be plagiarised to a very large extent. You might be thinking “This guy is clearly an idiot, not me nor anybody else I know would fall for this!” but you will probably be disappointed when you look at his Facebook page and find that he has a much wider audience than you’d expect. This is mainly down to his extremely clever ‘Bait and Switch’ marketing tactic for which he mainly uses social media.
First, the Bait
David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe’s site shares many motivational and inspirational memes which many people will be able to connect with such as these:
Many of his memes address current issues which resonate with people. In turn, these memes get shared very widely, and David accumulates a very large number of likes very quickly - which to him is just free advertising, since all these memes include a reminder that they came from his Facebook page. His memes work because they make you see what is wrong, and not why it is wrong - which leads us to react emotionally, and agree.
Unfortunately, emotions travel faster and further than facts. The memes being shared are usually quite vague so that they can appeal to as many people as possible, all of whom will probably ‘like’ or ‘share’ the content for different reasons. David Wolfe is as popular as he is because most of his fans like him for different reasons: be it a product he is promoting, one of the many opinions he holds, or even just simply the fact that his ‘game’ is coming across as the cool, honest guy who is ‘at one’ with nature. Once a basic level of trust is established some of his more elaborate woo becomes more prominent.
Lack of qualifications, and absence of academic credibility
Avocado claims to be ‘faculty’ at the “BodyMind Institute” – an institute built around selling pointless quackery. On their website you have the option to buy the ‘David Wolfe nutrition certification’ for only 600 Canadian dollars. From taking a look at his video lesson sneak peaks I realised that paying such an immense amount of money gives you access to 240 HD videos of David Wolfe taking a walk in the woods, visiting his garden, making a smoothie, and so on. Considering that he would probably want to use his best material to convince people to pay for it, I am really curious to see what you get for the money you pay that is not included in these sneak peeks.
Furthermore, in an interview he stated:
“I have degrees in Mechanical and Environmental Engineering and Political Science. I have studied at many different institutions including Oxford University. I concluded my formal education with a law degree from the University of San Diego.”
However, as you may have guessed at this point, I found absolutely no evidence for any of this being true. To confirm these suspicions I emailed both schools, asking whether David Wolfe ever attended them - at the time of publishing, they have not responded.**
Over the years David has spilled so much verbal garbage that it is difficult to choose what to include. Therefore I will focus on beliefs which would make even Chopra look like a sceptic.
- In a short video Wolfe produces a spectacular word salad in which he says that deer antler is a “cosmic substance” (which he happens to promote and sell).
He also believes that mushrooms are from space, and that chocolate is an octave of the suns energy. I won’t even bother to dispute these claims, because I feel that would be a huge waste of time but thought I’d mention them so we could have a laugh together.
- He believes that gravity is a lie:
“Gravity is not intrinsic to matter. That Carl Sagan idea that was sold to us on Cosmos on PBS, was sold to us deliberately to actually confuse us just so you know that. There’s people who have known that gravity is a force that can be displaced. There’s people that have known that since the ’50s or even earlier than that. But by screwing up, confusing our mind about things, and giving us incorrect theories we were brain washed into a totally different belief system. That gravity is intrinsic to all matter, we’re fighting gravity, we have to push our way through gravity to launch a craft up into outer space, all this nonsense.”
The great thing about science is that it works, whether you believe in it or not. Notice how, for a person that claims to be reputable and scientific, he avoids sourcing any of his claims. He offers no evidence, nor does he mention anybody of any credibility that agrees with him. As previously mentioned, he is famous enough to not have to do any of this for people to love him. I would be very curious to see whether he could devise an experiment that backs any of this up?
The problem is not that he holds these beliefs - we should always be inquisitive and question information that is presented to us, even if that that leads us to believe things that clearly go against the norm. However it is a different matter entirely to disregard heaps of evidence, and portray these issues in a manner which makes it seems as though the scientific community is divided on these issues. It isn’t.
My issue is that through his enormous social media presence he influences people’s ideas about these topics, and prevents them from doing their own research and forming their own ideas by making it seems like he has it all figured out. Add to this fact that most people will not question his expertise or his academic merit, and very quickly people end up believing that it is completely reasonable to not vaccinate your children, or convincing a loved one with cancer that they should smoke weed instead of getting treatment.
A Wolfe in sheepskin?
Looking at everything that he claims to stand for: health, spirituality, love… I am left wondering what this guy’s motivation could be. If he is really only after the insane amounts of money he makes out of all of this, it would mean that he doesn’t actually believe the anti-materialist, down-to-earth things he says such as:
“There are many multimillionaires suffering in hospital beds, eating hybridized, genetically modified processed foods, who are spiritually, emotionally, and mentally confused. There are many billionaires even, suffering from poor health and unable to experience the vast number of enjoyments they have spent their life acquiring. I have few assets, and yet I’ve never lacked for anything. I’ve never eaten anything but the best food ever… slept in the best (grounded) beds ever… travelled to the most exotic lands ever… experienced the most extraordinary health ever, shared the company of the most beautiful friends and family, and most of all, met hundreds of thousands of fantastic, wonderful people like you who are hungry for the knowledge I share.”
Either he is knowingly lying to everyone simply for the sake of profit - which would be in line with this video in which he proclaims to be the richest hippie on earth and also with this very awkward response he gave when someone asked him about his motivations - or he actually believes the nonsense he spews and does not see the irony in his actions. Given the abnormal size of his ego, I wouldn’t put it past him. One very applicable quote comes to mind:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way down through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false sense that democracy means ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’ ” – Isaac Asimov
I do not believe that David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe is a smart and calculating evil genius, and a part of me is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite all of the above and the fact that he has been accused of sexual harassment in the past. I think his mind works in a relatively simple, yet efficient way by learning what ideas people around him seem to respond well to, then propagating these further in order to increase his popularity.
It seems that what it’s ultimately about for him is popularity, and acceptance by the people he surrounds himself with in order to maintain the superhero image he has of himself. He has become incredibly good at selling himself and his ideas through this constant method of trial and error. This would also explain why he has held so many mutually exclusive beliefs at different stages of his life (first it was only about health, then it was about being vegan, then it was about being a raw vegan… before it became about selling deer antler extract).
If he is a calculating con artist after all, then his marketing is so good that even though I am sat here writing a critical article about him, he still manages to convince me that he is “just” a person looking for acceptance.
** UPDATE JULY 2016: I have received the following response from the University of Oxford, in response to asking whether David Wolfe ever attended their university as he claims to have done.
This is the first of a two part series about David Wolfe. My next article explores why his particular brand of fraudulence is so harmful to legitimate eco-activism and other similar movements.