Great news, nerds, I have fallen down YET ANOTHER rabbit hole and I’m here to take you on the same journey. It all started when I was watching my darling Philadelphia Phillies, which is a baseball team fyi, on the MLBTV app. Watching sports is the only time I really ever see TV commercials, and I think their relatively rarity makes me perk up a little and pay attention to them, as a sort of sociological observation. And boy was I rewarded the other day, when a wholesome looking older lady appeared on my television to give me some sage advice. Allow me to share that with you now.
Now, as someone who has accepted that we live in a dystopia, I’m happy to say that I got nothing but a hearty chuckle out of a “former nurse” stressing the importance of fruits and vegetables while a camera zooms in on two pill bottles reading “fruits” and “veggies.” It’s like a scene from Idiocracy or Back to the Future 2: “Doctors say that the key to health and happiness is Genuine Human Connection. That’s why I never forget to take my daily dose of Genuine Human Connection pills from Friendipharma.”
Anyway, I posted about this on social media and then immediately thought, “Oh, no one’s going to believe me because this is probably an obscure ad from a small local brand that can only afford to advertise on the app for Philadelphia Phillies’ afternoon games. Let me go online and find the spot to post that, too.”
So I search the internet for “fruits and veggies supplement commercial,” and I immediately saw the tiny white tip of a bunny’s tail disappearing down into his little warren, because on the first page of the Google results I found an article from consumerfraudreporting.org that claims these supplements, produced by a company called Balance of Nature, are “Overpriced Dried Food Pellets with massively exaggerated health claims!” They say that some of those claims include the following results from taking their supplements:
“I feel better”.
“I can hit the ball farther”.
“I could coach better.”
“I noticed immediately my energy levels picked up”
“Even with not a lot of sleep, I could function and be the mom I needed to be.”
“It helps you see better.”
“It helps you think better.”
“I’ve noticed my dreams are better”
After taking Balance of Nature.. “I can do a kick flip … and the next day, I wasn’t even sore.”
Wow was that Tony Hawk? Awesome.
I also learned that they cost nearly 45 DOLLARS A BOTTLE. And as you might have guessed from the title of this video, there was still SO MUCH MORE to discover.
Okay, let’s back up. First of all, in case you’re new here, let me just say that most of the people watching this probably don’t need supplements of any kind. As I mentioned in a video last month, supplements in the US and many other countries are not well-regulated, so you might not even be getting the ingredients they claim they have in them, just as you may be getting unknown, potentially hazardous ingredients. And even when supplements DO contain beneficial ingredients like vitamins, they are wasted on the average person with a normal diet. It’s ridiculously easy to get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat. That said, not everyone is “the average person,” so if your doctor recommends you take a supplement, like mine did when I lived in Buffalo, NY and had a severe Vitamin D deficiency (not a euphemism), you should do that! Especially if you’re suffering from a debilitating illness that can negatively impact your uptake of nutrients, like, well, pregnancy. So yeah, talk to your doctor but otherwise you can skip the entire “supplement” aisle at CVS and just go straight to the one where they’re selling snacks or last season’s weird shit at 75% off.
So supplements are already something you should view with a skeptical eye, and let me tell you, Balance of Nature is a supplement company you should just..not view. Just turn away. Pretend that you’re Indiana Jones and Balance of Nature is the Ark of the Covenant. Funny enough, the Nazis in this metaphor are literal Nazis because it turns out that Balance of Nature has been advertising all over Fox News, conservative talk radio, and other rightwing propaganda outlets.
Balance of Nature was founded in 1997 by Dr. Douglas Howard, and I know your first question is “Hold on, is he a real doctor?” And the answer to that is “Dr. Howard has never practiced in the medical field and has never claimed to.” However “Dr. Howard earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree at Cleveland Chiropractic College and had a very successful practice. He was invited to study medicine at Pavlov first Medical Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russia.”
Now, those Tweets from the Balance of Nature Xitter account in March of 2020 have since been deleted so I could be out of date on my info, here–maybe Mr. Howard’s hobby during COVID quarantine was becoming a real doctor. I do not know. But per this information, no, he is a chiropractor, which is a profession that merely flirts with real doctors. Also, for the new crowd, chiropractic is a pseudoscience that was founded as a way to cure everything that’s wrong with you, including things like cancer, by manipulating your spine. Even the chiropractors who, today, only treat back issues tend to be no better than physical therapists but more likely to snap your neck, give you a stroke, and kill you. So. Maybe avoid those guys.
Mr. Howard decided to start selling these supplements, in which he claims that he “flash dries” 16 different fruits and 15 different vegetables and grinds them into a little powder which goes into a pill that you take three of every day. So let’s see, there are 90 pills per bottle, which at $45 means it’s 50 cents per pill, so you’re spending about $3 every day to get your “fruits” and “veggies,” which Balance of Nature claims qualifies as “whole foods.” Now, back in my day, “whole foods” referred to foods that were, geez, I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, but like…whole? NOT processed? Not flash dried and literally processed down into a fine powder and placed in a pill? I guess now the term “whole foods” is like clicking on the image of a floppy disk to save something, or going to “Twitter.com” to access the well-known “X” app. A skeuomorph. An anachronism. A vestigial remnant of a bygone era.
Anyway, it seems like it took awhile for Balance of Nature and their stupid claims about their “whole foods” to come to the attention of authorities. In 2018, the Better Business Bureau was getting enough complaints that their National Advertising Division reached out to Balance of Nature and asked them to voluntarily substantiate some of their more egregious claims. When balance of nature shockingly ignored that request, the NAD tagged the US Federal Trade Commission and asked if they could, you know, do their job and get this particular corporation to stop lying to consumers. The FTC responded and said they were going to pass due to “resource
allocation and enforcement priorities,” suggesting that they had bigger fish to fry.
But the following year, the Food and Drug Authority stepped up to do THEIR job. As I’ve mentioned before, the FDA doesn’t need to approve supplements before they hit the market, but if they suspect a product is dangerous or mismarketed, they reserve the right to step in and take action. In February of 2019, FDA agents inspected the Balance of Nature facility and found “serious violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) and applicable regulations.” Balance of Nature objected, resulting in the FDA further reviewing the company’s website and YouTube channel and finding so much bullshit they issued an official warning letter.
Some of the violations included claiming their products could lower cholesterol, treat asthma, improve insulin function for diabetics, prevent pneumonia, treat cancer, and even treat multiple sclerosis. Further, they found that Balance of Nature’s manufacturing process had insufficient quality control measures.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any follow up to that warning letter, despite it ending with a request that Balance of Nature reply in two weeks to detail how they’re going to correct things. But things are still happening at a more local level – first, in 2020 Douglas Howard appeared on the Joe Piscopo Show, which apparently is a real thing that exists, implying that Balance of Nature can help against COVID. That led to consumer watchdog group Truth in Advertising to file complaints against the company with the FTC and the FDA.
I also found that in April of this year a DC law firm specializing in consumer protection filed a Freedom of Information request with the FDA asking for the details of their February 2019 inspection of Balance of Nature’s facilities.
Even better, just a few weeks ago the company (also known as Evig Group) settled a lawsuit brought by district attorneys here in the Bay Area and other parts of California that has them paying “$850,000 in civil penalties and investigative costs, along with $250,000 in restitution to customers.” Honestly, a million bucks is probably a drop in the bucket for a supplement company these days but it’s a good start. In addition to all the previously mentioned problems with Balance of Nature’s products, this lawsuit also calls attention to a shady subscription service that violates California state law “by charging a monthly fee without clearly disclosing terms, not giving customers an “adequate” acknowledgment of enrolling or not allowing customers to cancel online.” The company now has to notify all California customers from the past six years that they are eligible for a refund, and they have to stop using deceptive advertising, at least in this state. Even on the MLB app? I’m not sure, maybe I’ll email those DAs.
Normally, this would be the point where I wrap the video up: what a scummy company, I hate that they’re tricking people into taking worthless pills for real illnesses instead of getting help from their doctors, I hope other states crack down and I hope the FDA comes through with a big slapdown. Maybe a call to action, let these authorities know if you see Balance of Nature ads in your state, bla bla bla, smash cut to my adorable dog doing tricks for cheese and a humble request for you to like and subscribe.
But this is NOT where this video ends, because my dear nerds, this is NOT where the rabbit hole ends. After a lot of further sleuthing, I discovered that Balance of Nature isn’t JUST a snake oil business – it also has an unsettling connection to religion. Dare I say…cult?
The company is based in St. George, Utah, which was settled in 1861 by an apostle of Brigham Young’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. Nearly two thirds of the city’s current residents identify themselves as Mormons. With that in mind, you might not be surprised to learn that, say, a lot of the people who work at Balance of Nature are Mormons. Maybe the leadership are Mormons. Who cares, right?
Well, some of the non-Mormon employees do seem to care, at least over on GlassDoor where they complain about “strong LDS religious culture and core values”, “Heavily religious (LDS)” and, despite the free smoothies, “Can’t bring coffee or any kind of caffeine” into the office (presumably because the LDS Church forbids “hot drinks,” and many Mormons extend that to all caffeine.
That sucks for non-Mormons but as long as the company is up front about it, who cares, right? Well hold on, it gets worse. In several Glass Door reviews, employees don’t just mention “LDS” but “FLDS.” That stands for FUNDAMENTALIST Latter Day Saints, and while most people consider Mormonism to be a bog standard religion, “FLDS” is without a doubt a cult. While the mainstream Mormon church has evolved over the years to conform to American standards of decency and rule of law, the FLDS holds on to concepts like polygamy (in which a man can have many wives with three as the minimum), placement marriage (in which the Church leader can take or give wives to and from other men), the forced marriage of underage girls who are often married off to much older men, and the “serpent seed” belief, that black people are all the descendents of Cain, whose father was not Adam but Satan himself. Charming!
So, is Balance of Nature run by FLDS adherents? I cannot say. But I can say that several employees specifically mention things like “If you’re FLDS or very LDS then it will be very comfortable.” and “Very strong Polygamist influence. Very unsettling.” And the company headquarters are located about a 1-hour’s drive from the center of FLDS territory, Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. That’s the fundamentalist Mormon community that was run by Warren Jeffs, the pedophile currently serving life in prison for two felony counts of child sexual assault after five years on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: okay, so a few employees at Balance of Nature said there were FLDS and polygamist vibes at the company, and they’re a gallon of gas away from the cult’s ground zero. That’s not enough evidence to really make a big deal out of it in a video. And you know what? I agree. That’s why when I said that Balance of Nature has an unsettling connection to a cult, I WASN’T TALKING ABOUT THE FUNDAMENTALIST MORMONS.
That’s right! We have one final twist: the cult that I believe Balance of Nature is most closely associated with is SCIENTOLOGY. Yes. Scientology. The Thetan, Tom Cruise, anti-psychiatry, hail Xenu, L. Ron Hubbard, LA-based science fiction scam cult itself. And let me tell you, the evidence for it is way stronger than the FLDS stuff.
My first time noticing the connection was when I found a Reddit post from an employee, who one year ago wrote on r/mildlyinfuriating, “This is Balance of Nature. A company that doesn’t pay employees what they’re promised, forces religion (Mormonism and Scientology) down employee’s throats, withholds payment and advancement until Scientology courses are completed, keeps the top of the pyramid strong and keeps employees angry.” They included photos showing a screen in an office with a quote from the Book of Mormon and another that reads “RIGHTEOUS LIVING We Live to please the Lord no matter who is looking”.
Redditors didn’t give a shit, giving the post a scant 12 upvotes and commenting things like “Then that must all be pretty apparent in the job interview, especially the religion parts. Seems like anyone working there actively sought out a job with them, so not sure what the problem is.” The OP responded to explain that “It’s definitely not stayed in the job interview, you learn this as you go and the longer you stay in the company.” and “You can’t even complete training without taking the first lesson in the Ron L Hubbard “business courses.” You also can’t get higher in the company or get raises unless you have completed a certain level. One of the lessons is sitting across from another person while you both silently stare at each other without saying single word for over an hour or you fail and start all over.”
And by the way, the OP thinks their product is “really great,” so this is a relatively unbiased take in my opinion.
Sure enough, over on Glass Door multiple employees also mention Scientology: even the person who mentioned “Very strong Polygamist influence” says they “Could’ve looked past all of that, then comes the Scientology influence. Again, a bit unsettling.”
“L Ron Hubbard business model.”
One person advises management “Leave religion out of the business place. Stop trying to force employees to bend to some psychosomatic blend of mormonism and scientology and just run a business as a business.” (I don’t think they meant psychosomatic. I think they just meant “psycho.”)
“You are required to attend Hubbard Business College every month as part of your job,” notes another person.
All of this led me to find this February 2021 post from prominent Scientology critic Tony Ortega, who confirmed that “Hubbard Business College,” a Scientology front that promises an unaccredited “college education” based on L. Ron Hubbard’s “teachings,” has an outpost inside Balance of Nature’s headquarters. An employee wrote to Ortega that “They actually set aside time in a lot of meetings for managers to testify about how Hubbard has blessed their lives,” and they included a sheet from a new hire packet that says “Balance of Nature pays for instructors of Hubbard College to travel to St. George and offer courses each month. All employees are encouraged to attend each month and are allowed to invite their spouse or family members with approval through a CSW. Credits earned may be applied to a Business Administration Degree. Attending Hubbard College is not mandatory but is certainly encouraged. For more information, speak to your Manager.”
Ortega also noticed that Douglas Howard’s son Lex Howard, current CEO of the company, is featured on the Hubbard Business College website, where he gives a testimonial about how several Scientology courses changed his life for the better. Also, at least one of Balance of Nature’s TV ads featured a chiropractor sitting in front of “the Scientology “admin” or green volumes, with advice from L. Ron Hubbard about how to run businesses.”
More than a year later in May of 2022, ANOTHER Balance of Nature employee sent Ortega this video showing Scientology texts in the Hubbard Business College classrooms as well as throughout the Balance of Nature headquarters. “’Professors’ from Hubbard College will be here teaching classes every day starting next week until the end of the month,” the employee said. “I’ve heard there’s dozens of people in attendance each day. We only have 400 employees. So we potentially have 10 percent of our workforce in Hubbard training regularly.”
So there you have it! No more twists, that’s the end of the rabbit hole. One company that manages to combine snake oil, Scientology, and Mormonism, like the Voltron of Bullshit. I wish I could call it a Turkducken of Fuckery but Molly Jong-Fast beat me to that term yesterday.
Is that where you thought this was going? Did you think I was click-baiting? Let me know in the comments. Okay, that’s for real the end. Smash cut to Indy.