September 4th, 2011

Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margarita – The Anatomy of a Faux Scandal


A couple weeks ago I posted a link to a small news item on Twitter. The article stated that the Skinnygirl Margarita was pulled from shelves at Whole Foods. The general reaction was either “I don’t care” or “The article is promoting another beverage as an alternative to Skinnygirl.” Ty-Ku Sake is that alternative. This product claims are: “The TY KU Sake portfolio is 100% all natural and completely free of gluten, sulfites and tannins. The TY KU Low Calorie Asian Spirits portfolio is naturally low calorie and allows you to create your favorite cocktails with half the calories and double the flavor.”

In other words, the same exact concept as the Skinnygirl cocktail line. A mixed drink with half the calories and half the guilt.

I still kind of thought there was a little story here. Nothing huge by any means. But perhaps another competitive product had noticed the situation and conveniently leaked it to FitPerez.com as a way to promote their own product.

Once you put this story into a real framework of perspective, it’s really not the shocking story we see before us that has spiraled completely into a full-blown scandal.

I’m neither a Bethenny superfan, nor a Bethenny hater. I’ll watch her show and generally enjoy it. But I’m not afraid to say anything good or bad about her. I give her more coverage on this website because I know there is interest. I never found her to be a stereotypical Real Housewife type that is either completely crazy, petty, lacking humor, pretentious or void of any self-reflection. So I have never really made fun of her like many other Real Housewives. It’s just Bethenny.

Back to the story. After I mentioned it on Twitter, it went nowhere. I didn’t even bother to mention it on my website because I thought it was too much of a fluff story (not that I mind a good fluff story. It just wasn’t interesting enough.) A few weeks passed and the story never entered my mind again until it came into my general Real Housewives scans. Rob Shuter, formerly of PopEater.com, now of HuffingtonPost.com which is owned by AOL, posted this stale old news version of the story in his column. Better late than never. Rob failed to even mention the original source of the story from FitPerez.

“There are no ingredients listed on the bottle,” one nutritionist tells me. “Bethenny has been promoting the drink on and off-camera for years [as] full of ‘natural flavors, lightly sweetened with agave nectar and made with premium Blue Agave clear tequila,’ but that’s about all we know about its ingredients.” The reality star, who has told many friends “you have to fake it until you make it,” has been doing just that.

“Whole Foods isn’t about faking anything,” a store worker, who did not have permission to speak on behalf of the company, told me. “The store prides itself in selling the best quality whole products that our high-end consumers expect. Not novelty products that are shaded with secrecy.”

As usual, a story with no named sources.


Let me back up a bit and talk about Whole Foods for a second. I’m a complete, utter healthfood FREAK. That’s why my Twitter name is RAWVEGGIES. I have many stacks and piles and shelves of books on food, health and nutrition throughout my house. I’ve been obsessed with the topic for years, since I went from the biggest junkfood addict on the planet to a healthfood freak and vegan. And my point of view on Whole Foods is that this company is overpriced and NOT a healthy grocery store chain. That’s my opinion because I’ve gone through their aisles, analyzed their food many times and studied the product labels. Let me show you what a photo of “all natural” looks like:

A few things to notice about this apple. There is no packaging, it doesn’t have a shelf life of many years, it has no artificial flavors or ingredients (well, it might if it’s not grown in a healthy way, but that’s another topic), it’s mostly free of side effects and full of nutritional benefits. I read the label on everything I eat. If there is a preservative in the product, it is designed to kill off microscopic things trying to eat it. Then we eat it. Which is why I don’t want to eat preservatives. However, I don’t have a zero tolerance policy. If I’m going to purchase a product with a list of scientific ingredients, I keep it to a minimum. If I have two glasses of Skinnygirl Margarita once a month, I’m certainly not going to die from a brain tumor. The real danger of these kinds of product ingredients (that are in the vast majority of processed and packaged foods in EVERY grocery store) is when a person bases their entire diet on packaged foods. Or even a lot of their diet. It’s like smoking. If you have a cigar once a month, you’re not getting a higher rate of cancer. If you smoke 4 cartons a day, you’re probably headed down the wrong track. The real problem is that people living today in this country believe food comes in packages and bottles or restaurants – not gardens and groves. I try to keep the food I eat as close to the natural state as possible, with a little breathing room.

Having said that, a huge selection of cheese, canned goods, bottled products full of scientific sounding ingredients, sugared and fatted out, frozen food and juice drinks that aren’t even close to being fresh – Whole Foods is NOT health food. If you only include the produce section of Whole Foods, then in that case, it WOULD be a healthfood store.

The term “all natural” means nothing these days. Like gummy bears and Sun Chips, they don’t grow on trees.

Check out this “all natural” Sun Chips label.

Notice the All Natural label on their bag. Without Googling, how many of you know what maltodextrin, enzymes, yeast extract, citric acid and lactic acid are? Cheese, oil, salt and whey protein concentrate aren’t exactly what I’d call all natural health foods. Bethenny Frankel didn’t start this movement. This is what EVERYONE is doing in mass food production these days. If you want all natural, you stay in the produce section and carefully wash your fruits and vegetables. And the other 90% of the store, you read the labels and look for no scientific sounding ingredients. For example, if you read the label for Ragu Light, the ingredients are: INGREDIENTS: TOMATO PUREE (WATER, TOMATO PASTE), DICED TOMATOES IN PUREE, ONIONS, SUGAR, SALT, GARLIC POWDER, SPICES, BASIL, NATURAL FLAVOR. Nothing scientific sounding in here! It’s not as good as fresh tomatoes, but you’re not eating poison either. Ok to toss this in your cart.

After reading through all of these various SkinnyGirl stories, each one with a more sensational headline than the one before (YANKED from shelves, PULLED from stores, TOXIC, CANCER CAUSING, etc.), despite these outrageous claims, I concluded that only 16 Whole Foods stores had Skinnygirl margaritas and they simply didn’t re-order. (Who cares if Whole Foods is carrying the drink line. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to having your own racks at major chain Walmart complete with your photo.) The issue with Whole Foods was likely that the ingredient label wasn’t complete and failed to mention all the contents. And one of those contents had a scientific name, as do many if not most of the remaining packaged foods for sale at Whole Foods. I once tried to find a jar of olives without preservatives in Whole Foods and finally gave up. (Hard to find all natural jarred olives, but they exist.)

Any food that is packaged and isn’t designed to be eaten within a few days, and possibly a few weeks (for example, an apple might last a few weeks when properly stored) need to be frozen or prepared in a way that allows them to avoid spoiling. It hasn’t nothing specific to do with Skinnygirl, it’s THE ENTIRE world of packaged food. For all we know, Whole Foods might have re-ordered Skinnygirl had the full ingredient list been shown.

Bethenny really has nothing to lose by any of this. (After your first $100 million, it’s safe to say you’re comfortable in life.) She doesn’t own Skinnygirl Margaritas anymore. She had her big payday and could live happily for the rest of her life without working again. The story never got any traction until it landed on Huffington Post (via Jeel Zarun‘s media connection Rob Shuter and his story. I’m NOT saying Jeel had anything to do with this. For all we know, Rob could be trying to suck up to Jeel by throwing Bethenny under the bus with this story). Then Jeel’s friend Bonnie Fuller (she is the editor of www.HollywoodLife.com) didn’t exactly defend Bethenny when her website ran a story this week exclaiming: Bethenny Frankel may have made herself a household name in reality television but her Skinnygirl Margarita is making headlines as downright toxic to consumers! Probably no direct connection to Jeel Zarun as dozens of media outlets were running the same story with a different, scarier headline each time.

The thing with Huffinton Post is that they have a big “faux green” following. The kind of people that think if you drive a Prius, somehow you’re saving the environment by using less fuel. Despite the fact the car is built like every other car, using a ton of energy and resources taken from the planet. A Prius doesn’t magically appear. And then there are those people who spend a fortune to build a GREEN house complete with a swimming pool. (Kind of defeats the purpose if your dream green home wastes a pool full of water. And not to mention all the toxic chemicals you add to the water to kill pathogens.) These are usually the same people who like ask others to turn off the running water while brushing your teeth to save water. So it’s no surprise that population of readers saw this fake scandal, went berserk and blew it up into a media firestorm.

[Photo by PR Photos]

Email me at editor@terryaley.com. You have permission to link back to stories in chat forums or your own blogs. Follow me on Twitter, username: rawveggies!


  1. Terry, I applaud you for your balanced and accurate reporting here. A most welcome perspective in light of all the rediculous yellow sensationalist “journalism” in the blogosphere.

    Well done.

  2. Linda Carrier

    Thank you for a sensible explanation! I really appreciate your integrity and basic civility which so often is lacking in blogs and articles from many of late. Excellent!!

  3. TrueLifeDiva

    People are delusional if they think Whole Foods only sells “pure” food. Like Terry points out, if its in a can or jar it most likely has some type of preservative. This whole scandal is such a non-issue. Meanwhile, my local Costco has pallets of the stuff for $11.99 a bottle and folks who’ve never even heard of Bethenny are buying it…

  4. MAMAZ

    Thank you! This should, but probably won’t, be the final word on the Whole Foods/SKM non issue. Like you I am a health food fanatic and and Whole Foods doesn’t even begin to meet my criteria for a “green” place to shop. Not only do they carry many foods with preservatives, they package a lot of their foods in plastic. They fly and truck food in instead of purchasing local, which they claim is not cost effective.
    Still I wish Bethenny had kept her wits about her and responded in a better way.

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