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?

These aren’t just props or stunts to Jacobson. Rather, they are symbols that have been central to his 24-year crusade. The effectiveness of visual images was impressed upon him when he was a boy roaming among the dioramas and exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

“He loves tubes of gross fat or blobs of grease. He always looks for a way to make [the problems] seem real,” Liebman says.

Over the years, Jacobson, an MIT-trained microbiologist, has urged Liebman to stop writing like a scientist, to be more direct by removing “weasel words”–qualifiers such as “suggests” and “maybe.”

In addition to Jacobson’s dramatic bag of tricks–he stunned the Federal Trade Commission a few years ago when he sent it 170 rotted teeth attached to a petition about the advertising of junk food in children’s television programs–almost everything that comes out of the center is made simple: No one talks about the government’s recommended daily allowance of fat without pointing out that 65 grams equals 13 teaspoons; everything is compared to Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

Jacobson’s detractors say he overdoes the Big Mac analogy and simply goes too far.

Does he have to scold President Clinton? In more than one public speech, Jacobson has said he wished Clinton could be persuaded to stop for sweet potatoes, rated by the center to be the perfect food, at least as often as he stops at McDonald’s.

And did Jacobson really have to write the Washington Post suggesting its recipes belonged on the obituary page?

“Well, some of it is fun,” he admits.

For someone who is so involved in the food industry, Jacobson really had no special interest in food in his youth. He was raised on meat and potatoes in Chicago by his father, Larry, a camera-store owner, and his mother, Janet, a substitute teacher.

Although he was briefly a vegetarian in college, his first real contact with the complexities of healthy eating came in April, 1970, when he went to Washington to work with Ralph Nader. His first assignment was to investigate food additives. In the course of writing a book on the subject for Nader’s group, he learned about nutrition, and discovered that additives weren’t nearly as dangerous to the public’s health as high fats and cholesterol. By 1971, he and two other scientists, who have since left, pooled their money and founded the center to pass on their new knowledge to the public.

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