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?

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There is something that food scientists, as they attempt to re-create the taste of fat, like to refer to as “mouth feel”–that sense of weight and texture, of tenderness and juiciness, that people so crave and enjoy in foods that invariably are unhealthy.

And if there is something fundamental that people at the center recognize, but sometimes shortchange, it is the enormous barrier Americans must get past as they try to adjust their palates, actually recalibrate them, so that, indeed, a plain sweet potato can somehow taste as satisfying as it would had it been slathered in butter or marshmallow.

The problem is that many Americans eat like lumberjacks at the same time they smoke, drink, sit behind desks and are being persuaded by a consumer culture to want things that aren’t good for them. The food detectives try to be a voice that sometimes shouts above the din in America’s 150,000 fast-food restaurants or in the center aisle of thousands of grocery stores.

Jacobson has seen some signs that people are listening: heart-attack rates have come down, people are drinking more 1% milk and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. In the future, he says, he plans to hammer the same messages but, hopefully, through new means such as the Internet, 30-second spots on radio and television and in programs for children.

“Some things really are moving in the right direction and others aren’t,” he says. “But the campaigns to promote better nutrition are so puny and they’re opposed by such enormous cultural forces that to expect great progress in a brief period of time is naive. It’s going to take decades to really change a culture’s eating habits.”

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