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?

“He’s got the story the media wants,” grumbles one food executive. “If he’s the good guy in the white hat, we’re the bad guys in the black hats. So there’s no mileage to taking him on except for the five minutes of emotional satisfaction.”

The people at the center seem to relish some of the criticism. Certainly the commotion has increased their resources. The center is funded mostly by $24-a-year subscriptions to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. Since 1991, the newsletter’s circulation has tripled from 240,000 to 780,000 today, thus tripling the center’s budget to $12 million. (Jacobson insists that the increased circulation is coincidental to the center’s new fame. He says it has more to do with aggressive marketing of the newsletter than his multiple appearances on CNN.)

Even though the staff prefers to think of themselves as “food detectives” rather than “food cops”–they’re investigators, not enforcers–they embrace exaggerated images. Art Silverman, spokesman for the center, offered to have Jacobson photographed dressed like a cop. “If you’re tagged with an image, you can go against the tide or go with it,” Silverman says. “We’d rather go with it to get our bigger message across.”

But mostly the center’s staff feels miserably misunderstood, that their broad, scientifically based advocacy agenda has been reduced to an investigation of what will drive us to the grave faster–deep fried seafood or taco salad. And so the time has come to suck in our collective gut, pack a politically correct snack and visit the squad room of the food detectives at 1875 Connecticut Ave., the center’s headquarters in northwest Washington, D.C.

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The center’s offices are located in the third-floor suite of a building just above the eclectic Dupont Circle in downtown Washington. In many ways, this could be any workplace in the nation’s capital–a smoke-free environment filled with clean-living yuppies. But when you walk the hallway leading to the center’s offices, a gallery of posters such as the “Anti-Cancer Eating Guide: Fight Cancer With Your Fork” and the “Fiber Scoreboard: Rough It Up” signal that what lies ahead is not a normal nest of bureaucrats.

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