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?

As the mastermind of the restaurant studies, Hurley, who is 5′ 8″, 120 pounds and an exercise fiend, has probably taken the worst public beating recently of anyone on the staff. Chicago columnist Mike Royko referred to her as a “skinny harpy” after seeing her on television talking about the perils of Chinese food. She was upset but is ready for another go-around: “We always do our research, so I’m always prepared,” she says. For the study under way in the Baltimore lab, she had spent weeks researching and planning and will spend as much time analyzing results this summer.

“There’s no rocket science here but it’s also not just going randomly to a restaurant near our office and tasting the food,” she says.

After Hurley finishes her analysis, she turns the results over to Art Silverman.

He is the center’s quick-witted phrase maker who came up with “heart attack on a plate” for fettucine Alfredo and recast movie theater popcorn as “the Godzilla of snack foods.” (Since coming to the center three years ago, Silverman, 44, has dropped 20 pounds and 70 cholesterol points.)

Before he arrived, only Jacobson wrote press releases, although all of the senior staff has always been allowed to talk to reporters. “What distinguishes us is that we have scientists and lawyers who know how to speak English and deliver sound bites,” he says.

Essentially, the organization is run by ‘60s-minded ideologues with a ‘90s view of using the media. Sometimes that means issuing lengthy tomes entitled “Government Involvement in Agricultural Marketing: Taxpayer Handouts–Government for Hire.” But more often, that means a snappy press release once a week and a dramatic press conference every few months. If the news is sensational, nothing gets in its way: Jacobson was interviewed about popcorn by South Africa’s major radio station the week of Nelson Mandela’s election as president.

But in April, Jacobson released a report revealing that baby-food companies such as Gerber used starch fillers in their bananas and tapioca meal, among other complaints. The nation’s mothers did not rise up in arms, perhaps because they were busy grieving elsewhere: The report came the morning of April 20, one day after a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City.

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