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?

Increasingly, we are what we hate. Fat.

But only with its recent findings has the center hit a nerve–mostly prompting a collective groan from the public of “What will they tell us we can’t eat next? There’s nothing left!”

The frenzy began in September, 1993, when the center’s first restaurant-food study crushed the public assumption that Chinese cuisine was somehow “more healthful” than others. News that Kung Pao chicken has nearly as much fat as four McDonald’s Quarter Pounders, and that moo shu pork has 1,228 calories, with about half of them from fat, caused dyspeptic headlines around the world. (Little attention was paid to the center’s volumes of advice on how to make it healthier. For an egg roll: “Sop up some grease. Roll it in a napkin.” For sweet and sour pork: “Most of the fat’s in the breading. So take it off.”)

After additional surveys of Italian, Mexican, seafood and deli restaurants and theater popcorn, name recognition of the center picked up. So did the name calling. A list of negative descriptions is cheerfully kept in the center’s computer:


“Ayatollah of the food industry,” “broccoliheads,” “direct descendants of Chicken Little,” “gastronomical gestapo,” “knee-jerk-manipulative-press-releasery,” “party poopers,” “puritan self-denyers” and “Anorexic Left Wing Trust Fund East Coast Elitist Busybodies.”

While the restaurant studies have catapulted him into the biggest food-fight of his professional life, Michael Jacobson insists that he is used to controversy. Jacobson, executive director of the center and a wiry, middle-class child of the Midwest, says throughout the 1970s he was dismissed as a food faddist, a health nut and a quack.

“It’s amusing to see us being criticized as trying to change people’s diets when McDonald’s spends $750 million a year on advertising,” he says. “The biggest fast-food company goes into everybody’s homes on Saturday mornings and says, ‘Kids, eat this. You’ll love it.’ If McDonald’s sent sales people around door to door and said, ‘Ma’am, Can I talk to your child about fast foods? Alone.’, you’d slam the door in that guy’s face. But McDonald’s gets into our homes with this very insidious, harmful message and we accept it.”

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