Do They Enjoy Really Being Dinner Party Don’t-Invite-’ems? : They Pointed Out the Perils of Popcorn, Chinese Food, Even the Unassuming Tuna Salad Sandwich. But What Really Goes On Inside the Center for Science in the Public Interest?

Probably Silverglade’s biggest effort–and success–went into fighting for the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which requires all food products to disclose nutritional information and established standard definitions for claims such as “low fat” and “light.” More recently, Silverglade has filed a lawsuit in federal court to persuade the FDA to apply labeling rules to restaurant menus so that places such as Don Pablos in Dallas–he pulls the restaurant’s giant menu from his bookshelf–can’t say that an avocado dish “lowers blood cholesterol.”

“They can’t make positive health claims like that when everybody knows that avocados are high in fat,” he says.

Asked about his own diet, Silverglade stiffens a little. A solid, seemingly reserved man, Silverglade says he sticks to a conservative diet. Since he’s been in this job, however, he has made a few changes: “I’ve switched from 2% to 1% milk. I will take a polite nibble at dessert. But I still eat red meat.”

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Michael Jacobson’s assistant, Geoffrey Barron, is taking a typical call.

“Tuna salad has a lot of fat,” he says.

Silence.

“Well, what’s in the vinaigrette? It’s OK, as long as there’s no mayonnaise.”

Silence.

“Yeah, olive oil’s OK.”

Silence.

“It sounds OK, just leave out the dessert.”

Click.

In Jacobson’s office the lessons continue.

This guy must have excelled in show-and-tell. He shows off a graduated cylinder containing equal portions of fat and protein in a single hot dog. “This is not terribly dramatic,” he says, twirling the cylinder in his hand and closely examining it in the manner of a scientist, which he is. “It’s only dramatic if you realize that people think of a hot dog as protein and it’s really a fat food.” He seems to savor the wincing faces of people who look at the grease, knowing they’ve spent a lifetime chowing down hot dogs at ballgames and barbecues.

Then, his eyes brightening with expectation, Jacobson, 52, offers to produce a block of hydrogenated fat, which looks like a cubic foot of soap except that it’s rock hard. Fast-food restaurants often use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat for frying, he explains. “People normally assume that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil pours. I mean that’s the dictionary definition of oil.” And to make the point that it doesn’t, Jacobson for years during speeches would open a jar of coconut oil and turn it over his head. Of course, nothing came out.

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