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?

“A piece of lettuce between two slices of bread,” Parker suggests.

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If there is anything we loathe more than somebody who whines constantly about how much weight they need to lose, it’s dining with someone who works for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The center, a consumer-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., has been the nation’s mom since 1971, battling the wealthy food industry and telling us to eat our broccoli. This band of baby-boomer advocates sees itself as an intermediary between real science and popular culture–between the Ph.D. who proves saturated fat can cause colon cancer and the guy who orders a marbleized steak for dinner. They’ve worked against deceptive advertising campaigns by food giants such as Kraft and Kellogg’s and lobbied Congress to require ingredient and nutrition labels on everything from a can of soup to a bottle of beer. But they are best known for taking these extreme positions:

“Fettucine Alfredo is the worst dish we’ve seen in 23 years of evaluating foods. It’s a heart attack on a plate.”

“Popular Chinese dishes like Kung Pao chicken and moo shu pork are as bad for you as a greasy cheeseburger and fries.”

“A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch and a steak dinner with all the trimmings–combined!”

Admittedly, these are the sound bites that were gobbled up by the news media even though the center gave equal time to healthful ethnic dishes and movie theaters that eventually switched oils or to air in their poppers.

In fact, many Americans have gotten the word that a lousy diet can be dangerous. They need only watch their neighbors waddling down the block to see why: One in three Americans are obese, up from 1 in 4 in the 1970s. At the same time, a generation of scientists has proven that diet and lack of exercise can kill: At least 300,000 people a year are dying from an unhealthy diet and sedentary life, second only to the 400,000 who die from smoking. And eating with abandon can lead to high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay, not to mention the enormous societal prejudice that exists against fat people.

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