March 23, 1995 in Nation/World

Food Cops’ Fridge Full Of Fat Food But For Testing And Analysis Only, Say Nutrition Experts

Brigid Schulte Knight-Ridder
 

They’ve been called the nation’s nutrition nags for taking on Chinese food and movie popcorn, the diet terrorists for ruining a dinner of fettucine alfredo.

And now that they’ve shattered illusions about the all-American sandwich, just what do the fat cops themselves eat for lunch?

A peek in the fridge at the Center for Science in the Public Interest reveals: Chinese takeout boxes. Plates of leftover spaghetti. Full-fat Russian dressing. Black bean tamales. A pre-wrapped slice of American cheese.

“This is not for consumption,” spokesman Art Silverman explained quickly, holding the cheese by its corner. “A lot of the stuff in here is for testing and analysis.”

Same for the stick of butter, Hungry Man meatloaf dinners, Celeste Californian pizzas and the package of hot dogs in the freezer. But the Lite Miracle Whip, mustard, Garden Vegan burgers, pumpernickel bread and Ciao Bella mango lowfat frozen yogurt were edible items.

In fact, as the 50 CSPI staff members cycled through the crammed office kitchen for lunch Wednesday, most of them, though certainly not purists, appeared to practice what CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, the high priest of the low-fat diet, preaches.

And the thin-bordering-on-gaunt Jacobson is a hard act to follow. The microbiologist who founded the CSPI in 1971 with money from his own savings, grew up on hamburgers and soda. But now lunch is homemade, fat-free lentil soup, a bagel with honey, or yogurt and a couple pieces of fruit.

Snacks are usually carrots, or a handful of peanuts. A splurge, he insists, might be a tomato and lowfat cheese sandwich.

“Look, I don’t rush out to buy

Oreo cookies or sit down to a pint of Haagen-Dazs,” he said.

CSPI, which started in Jacobson’s rented Washington townhouse, now runs on a $10 milliona-year budget, primarily from subscriptions to its nutrition newsletter. Its work has changed menu offerings after exposing the hidden fat in Chinese, Mexican and Italian food and in movie theater popcorn.

At lunchtime, Bonnie Liebman, who directs the nutrition program, toasted whole-wheat pitas and stuffed them with salad from the nearby Safeway salad bar. She uses tuna salad as a dressing. “I already knew about the fat before yesterday, I just didn’t know how MUCH fat,” Liebman said. “But I like tuna salad, so I use it sparingly. We’re not real strict around here. It’s not like we sit around eating brown rice and seaweed.”

In a study released Tuesday, CSPI analyzed 170 different deli sandwiches from around the country and found that a tuna salad sandwich with mayo on the bread supplies a whole day’s allowance of fat, or about 80 potato chips’ worth.

“You don’t want to bring a Ding Dong in here, especially with Michael around,” said Tom Clark, an accountant who had just finished his lunch of potato soup and fruit cocktail. “You don’t want to get caught.”

Jacobson has been known to dress down a staffer or two for poor eating habits. But Clark and Angela Beamon said it was more out of concern for staffers’ blood pressure and health.

Beamon, who was heating a take-out black bean burrito in one of two microwaves, assured other staffers she hadn’t ordered any fattening sour cream or guacamole. “I beHAVED,” she said. “They get after me sometimes.”

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