Daily Harvest: Influencers Blame Illness, Gallbladder Removal on Meal

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As vegan lifestyle influencer Luke Pearson tells it, on June 6, he was packing to leave his home in Portland, Oregon, for a trip to Mexico, when he reached for Daily Harvest’s frozen French Lentil and Leek Crumbles to cook up a nutritious late-night snack. The product, which he’d gotten in a PR package the company sent out to influencers, comprises lentils, butternut squash, hemp seeds, quinoa, and other ostensibly healthy ingredients, bound into clusters. 

That night was actually the second time he made it, he says. The first time, about a week earlier, he’d taken some video footage — which he shared with Rolling Stone — of himself topping a flatbread with the Daily Harvest crumbles. The packaging was visible on the table beside him. He had planned to post the video on social media, but says things took a turn before he uploaded the content. About 20 minutes after eating, he says he felt “excruciating, all-over stomach pain.” He slept it off and never suspected the food. “I didn’t correlate it with eating the lentils, because I eat lentils all the time,” he says.

The night before the Mexico trip, Pearson says, the stomach ache returned minutes after he ate the lentil crumbles, and he soon developed a fever and chills. When morning came and he didn’t feel better, he and his wife canceled their trip. “I was worried I had Covid or something,” he says. He didn’t, but a trip to the doctor revealed his liver enzymes were elevated, and results of a CT scan suggested he could have gallstones. Over the next couple days, he says his urine darkened and he developed jaundice — a yellowing of the eyes and skin which can indicate problems with the liver or gallbladder. Six days after he’d consumed the lentil crumbles, with doctors unsure of what had caused his illness but with his symptoms and some tests pointing to gallstones, they elected to remove his gallbladder, as a precaution, he says. He felt bowled over by what was happening to him. “Something just didn’t feel right,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I am a healthy 30-year-old. I exercise four to five times a week, I eat plant-based, and I haven’t drunk alcohol in three years. I haven’t had so much as a cold in seven or more years. I don’t get sick.” 

Pearson isn’t the only one who says they got sick after trying Daily Harvest’s newest product. Over the past week, social media channels have lit up with users recounting the severe medical issues they allegedly faced after eating the meal delivery company’s lentil crumbles. (The company has since voluntarily recalled the product and says they’re taking other steps “to get to the bottom of this.”) In a thread on the Daily Harvest subreddit — started on June 15 and now 900 comments deep — users described extreme stomach pain, fever, elevated levels of liver enzymes and bilirubin (a chemical that passes through the liver before being excreted in solid waste), jaundice and other symptoms they say they developed after eating the crumbles. Multiple Reddit users also said they’d had their gallbladder removed, and product safety lawyer Jeffrey Bowersox tells Rolling Stone several people told him they underwent the surgery after eating the same product. Rolling Stone has reviewed medical documentation — including a referral to a gastroenterologist, a record of an ER visit, and, in Pearson’s case, confirmation of his gallbladder removal — for the three Daily Harvest consumers interviewed for this piece.

@zoeluvscats

#stitch with @abby.silverman #dailyharvest I guess you could say my health is #crumbling

♬ original sound – Zoë Aarts

An email from Daily Harvest reviewed by Rolling Stone asked customers on June 17 to dispose of lentil crumbles “out of an abundance of caution” and also offered $10 credits for future purchases — yet influencers and customers have been disappointed by what they see as a tepid response by the company. Zoë Aarts, a graduate student living in New York City and a three-year Daily Harvest customer, didn’t even open that email at first, because the subject line, which began “Please read,” sounded to her like it would just be promotional copy. The company also updated Instagram captions of photos promoting the crumbles, directing viewers to a “link in bio” which led to the news that some people were reporting “gastrointestinal issues,” and asked people to not eat the product. Some people have complained to Rolling Stone and many more griped on social media that their messages to customer service had gone unanswered for days, even though the company invited concerned customers to reach out.

Daily Harvest did not answer Rolling Stone’s requests for comment, pointing only to their public statements. Late in the day on Wednesday, the company did, however, put up a new post on Instagram for the first time since the complaints began. Although it remains to be seen if the reported illnesses are, in fact, caused by the Daily Harvest lentil product, the company said they are taking the consumer reports “very seriously,” and they’re working to investigate the “possible link” with a group of experts, independent labs, and the FDA to find answers to what could have caused customers to fall ill, although they have none yet. Wednesday’s Instagram post stated, “All pathogen and toxicology results have come back negative so far.” This is in addition to the company’s voluntary recall of the product.

“I just think it’s kinda weird that the company had its start with these influencers, and now it’s being taken down by them”

A spokesperson for the FDA says the agency “cannot confirm or deny if an [FDA] investigation is planned or in progress” aside from the “Outbreak Investigations” listed on its website. Currently, the Daily Harvest situation is not listed. But the spokesperson added that when the FDA receives reports of possible food-related illness, they may perform inspections or continue to monitor the situation, depending on the seriousness of the problem. “When specific consumer guidance can be developed (such as avoiding a specific contaminated food), the FDA and CDC will publish outbreak advisories communicating that guidance,” the spokesperson says.

That a brand marketing plant-based foods to a diet-conscious audience could potentially — however unintentionally — distribute a product that may have caused such severe illness in so many people is a lot to process in and of itself. That the company would, in the eyes of critics, not do enough for customers who believed they shared its values, along with the social media influencers who it relies upon to boost its product, feels to many like a betrayal. Now, Rolling Stone has confirmed there are lawsuits incoming. “I just think it’s kinda weird that the company had its start with these influencers,” Aarts tells Rolling Stone. “And now it’s being taken down by them.”

 

Daily Harvest founder Rachel Drori started the business in 2015 in a rented kitchen in Queens, New York, according to a 2020 Forbes profile, making smoothies and freezing them for local delivery. Even from the early days, Forbes reported, she relied on social media marketing, building a network of regional micro influencers before expanding. As the business grew, its repertoire expanded to include full meals, all vegan, and typically organic. Daily Harvest really took off during the pandemic, when lockdown led to a booming demand for meal delivery. By 2021, the company was valued at $1.1 billion

The company’s direct-to-consumer branding, complete with celebrity investors like Serena Williams and Gwyneth Paltrow, has largely grown through partnerships with content creators. Daily Harvest has hosted folks from The Sill and holistic healthcare startup Parsley Health for Instagram takeovers, for example, and has a brand ambassador program where creators get personalized discount codes to share with their followers.

Like many direct-to-consumer companies, Daily Harvest appeals to buyers’ values and morality. Their chic website touts the development of regenerative food systems in opposition to industrial farming, and supports reducing consumers’ carbon footprints through plant-based diets. The company even provides financial support to farmers to help them transition from conventional to organic crop-growing. All this positions them as a brand consumers and content creators trust. Now, many of those same supporters say they feel let down by the company’s response to people who allege that they’ve fallen seriously ill after eating their product — even though it remains unclear what exactly could be causing the symptoms people are describing. 

The trouble with Daily Harvest has played out in multiple acts. The first was something of a prologue that the public didn’t witness: a slew of people across the country saying they were admitted to emergency rooms after eating the crumbles, with liver and gallbladder issues that have allegedly stumped doctors. 

Then came Act One: the Reddit thread. This segment reached its climax on Sunday, June 19, as Daily Harvest released the voluntary recall of its French Lentil and Leek Crumbles on its website. “We’ve received customer reports of French Lentil + Leek Crumbles causing gastrointestinal issues,” the statement read. “If you have any French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, please dispose of them and do not eat them.” They said they were investigating their entire supply chain, and that they’d already reached out directly to every person who had received the product.

The announcement ignited a second wave of outrage, as more people who claimed they experienced gastrointestinal issues after eating the product learned the news, and some claiming they had not been contacted by the company. Abigail Silverman, digital creative director for Cosmopolitan, posted a TikTok on Sunday after she received an email from Daily Harvest. “I’m literally shaking right now,” she said, and said that she’d been sick and spent time in the ER after receiving their PR package and eating the product. Her symptoms had stumped her — until she received the company email. That led her to Google, which led her to the Reddit thread of hundreds of comments describing similar symptoms. “Serious PSA: if you have this product, throw it away, do not eat it, and contact Daily Harvest. This is not OK,” she said. Her TikTok has been viewed more than 800,000 times. 

@abby.silverman

this is so f**ked up… #fyp

♬ original sound – Abigail Silverman

 

Pearson says he did not learn about the potential Daily Harvest connection to his own symptoms until someone sent him Silverman’s TikTok, shortly after she posted it. “I was watching in bed, and I just sat straight up,” he says. “I was like, wait, wait, wait. This literally adds up. That is what I ate.” He says he eventually received emails from Daily Harvest, but says he wasn’t aware of any until after  he’d seen the video and posted his own TikTok about the problem.

Aarts, who received the lentil product in one of her regular deliveries, says she felt that the email Daily Harvest sent ahead of the June 19 recall (the one she had initially overlooked as an ad, but opened after hearing about the recall on TikTok) lacked urgency and read as if was blaming consumers. “A small number of customers have reported gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming our French Lentil + Leek Crumbles,” read the email from June 17, which Rolling Stone reviewed. “As included in our cooking instructions, lentils must be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165℉. Like some other legumes, raw lentils contain a type of protein that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms unless thoroughly cooked.” 

“They were kind of implicating the customer in not cooking them correctly, but I definitely did because I cook a lot of vegetarian stuff,” says Aarts, who is a vegetarian and allergic to gluten. She says she sautéed the lentils until they started to crisp and even blacken a bit because she knows they need to be cooked thoroughly. 

Jeffrey Bowersox, an attorney, has confirmed to Rolling Stone that he is preparing to file federal lawsuits on behalf of several clients

Ashley Stuart, an influencer who posts home decor and gluten- and dairy-free cooking videos, says she first felt a little off after eating the lentil crumbles at a May launch event for the product in Los Angeles. “When we got there, it was already made,” she says. “They had it made in a taco form, so they had the crumbles, and like, avocado, and I want to say lettuce.” She says she felt a mild stomach ache that day, but she didn’t think much of it. She got more crumbles in a gift bag from the event, and says that, when she cooked them later for her girlfriend and their friend, everybody felt ill. Like the other sources who spoke to Rolling Stone, she didn’t suspect the Daily Harvest product could have made them feel ill because it was a healthy, vegan meal. “We just chalked it up to like, oh, maybe it’s the oil that we cook with, or whatever,” she says. Stuart says she sought emergency medical treatment last weekend because her chest felt tight. She further claims she never got an email from the company about the crumbles, although she DMed them on Instagram and sent Rolling Stone a screenshot showing the brand had “seen” the message, but not yet responded. She also recently took to TikTok to share her experience. Aarts and Pearson both say they reached out to Daily Harvest’s customer service email but got no word back. “It’s weird, because their customer service is normally great,” Aarts says. “I’ve had boxes stolen before and they always respond right away, but with this, I emailed them on Sunday, and I heard nothing.”

Pearson, who says his “life has been altered forever” by eating Daily Harvest’s lentil crumbles, retained Bowersox, the product safety lawyer, and on Tuesday posted Bowersox’ contact info on TikTok, encouraging more people to reach out to him. By Wednesday, Bowersox tells Rolling Stone, he had heard directly from 50 to 60 more people describing symptoms like stomach pain, vomiting, elevated liver enzyme and bilirubin levels, dark urine, itching, and jaundice. He claims that roughly a half dozen of them had also, like Pearson, undergone gallbladder removal surgery. Based on communications with other lawyers, who he says are also receiving calls from people about Daily Harvest, Bowersox believes hundreds of people have been affected by Daily Harvest’s lentil crumbles product. As Act Three unfolds, marked Daily Harvest’s Instagram update Wednesday night and commenters’ swift cries of “Too little too late,” Bowersox has confirmed to Rolling Stone that he is preparing to file federal lawsuits on behalf of several clients, starting this week in Oregon with a suit on behalf of Pearson. Additional filings in other jurisdictions will follow, he says. 

Pearson had never tried Daily Harvest when the company reached out to him about sending him their new crumbles in a PR package. “I’d been interested in trying them before, just never had,” he says. “The email came through to get a free box of new stuff, and I eat lentils all the time, so the new product sounded great.” He won’t be trying them again. 

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