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?

Though Jacobson loves to talk of his triumphs during that first decade–organizing Food Day and pressing the government about pesticides in food–he didn’t become known beyond the world of experts until he took on the fast-food industry.

That campaign began in 1983, when Liebman, at Jacobson’s urging, decided to look at what was being served to millions of customers in fast-food restaurants. At the time, food writers largely ignored fast food because it was too plebeian.

“It was a pretty big industry–$30 to $40 billion a year–probably bigger than the tobacco industry back then,” says Jacobson. After Liebman’s investigation, he says, he recognized that he had a juicy opportunity. “I thought, ‘Yes, big target.’ ”

When the companies refused to reveal ingredients, Jacobson sent an assistant to forage for packages listing ingredients in dumpsters at a Washington-area McDonald’s. But a breakthrough, according to Jacobson, came when a competitor of McDonald’s told him that chicken McNuggets contained ground-up chicken skin. He dissected a serving of McNuggets in his office and found the skins. In short order, he called a press conference, which led to a furor over McNuggets. Later, his staff discovered that McDonald’s and others were frying their French fries in beef fat, which a lot of people also found appalling.

Beyond the fast-food joints and grocery stores, which the center focused on during the 1970s and 1980s, Jacobson says he began to broaden the center’s reach when he realized how often Americans eat outside their homes. In fact, nearly half of the American “food dollar” is spent in restaurants. And so the 1990s became the decade the center took on restaurant foods, and the period that Jacobson’s public battles escalated.

Probably the worst charge leveled at Jacobson–perhaps even worse than that he takes a dim view of humanity and talks in hyperbolic terms to scare people healthy–is that he doesn’t like to eat.

“I have certainly grown to like it,” he says. “I see the pleasures and I love meeting a new vegetable from time to time.”

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