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?

Each component of the meal is first separated and categorized–animal, vegetable, fruit, nut, sauce and so on. After they are weighed and measured, they are reassembled and then stuffed through a grinder. The resulting mush is packaged in a plastic bag and coded. Later, 100-gram samples are blended to make “composites”–equal portions of the same meal from the same restaurant in different cities. The composites are then shipped to another part of the lab for analysis of calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

As vile as the mush looks, it apparently doesn’t taste too bad, though the workers refrain from tasting to preserve the integrity of the study.

“It’s amazing,” says Supat Sirivicha, co-owner of the lab, “after we grind up the whole meal you’d never know it once was a chicken sandwich. It tastes like a chicken sandwich, it smells like one, and if you close your eyes and eat it, you think, ‘Gee, that’s a chicken sandwich.’ It just looks like brown mush.”

At one point, chemists Gilbert Daljani and Roberta Xega debate over a congealed orange blob. They can’t decide what it is. Daljani smells it first: “Count it with the sauce,” he says. Then Xega takes a whiff, pushes it around with the tweezers and shakes her head: “No, no, it’s from sauteeing peppers and onions.” Daljani sticks his nose even closer. “No, it’s not marinade, it’s sauce.” He prevails.

Later, Xega struggles with a smidgen of cheese that sticks to a piece of flat bread. Daljani wonders whether a red sliver is a piece of cabbage or a strand of lettuce soaked by red sauce. At times it seems tempting just to taste the food to get answers. But they resist and besides, who could stomach it?

When the lab was analyzing deli sandwiches (tuna salad is worse for you than roast beef on rye) for a report that was released this year, Alan Parker, another co-owner of the lab, came up with an idea for a Michael Jacobson sandwich–named for the center’s founder.

So if at famous delis, a Tom Hanks sandwich consists of roast beef, chopped liver, onion and chicken fat, and a Dolly Parton is twin rolls of corned beef and pastrami, then a Michael Jacobson sandwich must be?

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