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EatingWell Interviews CSPI's Michael Jacobson on Food Day

With the launch of the first-ever Food Day, we talk to Center for Science in the Public Interest director about his diet, biggest success and more.

Michael Jacobson has been called many things—from “hero” to “Food Nazi.” Jacobson, a microbiologist who founded the nonprofit health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in 1971, prefers “food detective.” CSPI is best known for advocacy on issues like calorie labeling on restaurant menus, or their attention-grabbing efforts (passing out toilet paper printed with the words “ban olestra” in the 1990s). Now the group is hosting Food Day, an “Earth Day” for foodies on October 24, 2011. CSPI hopes to inspire us to collaboratively improve our diets and fix our food system. We talked with Jacobson about what else he’s up to.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of CSPI/Jorge Bach

What are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of our longstanding efforts on salt, which causes more deaths than anything else in the food supply. Our 2005 publication “Salt: the forgotten killer” got a great deal of attention from the media and Congress. To fend off regulation, large companies—like ConAgra, General Mills and Walmart—have pledged to lower sodium by about 10 to 25 percent over the next few years.

Why should the FDA ban the unnecessary use of anti­biotics on farms?

Most antibiotics are used to speed animals’ growth and overcome problems caused by overcrowding and filthy conditions, not to treat sick animals. The problem is not that antibiotics remain in the chicken, it’s that their use might lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can cause hard-to-treat infections in people. You can help by choosing organically raised meat and poultry.

Are there foods you won’t eat?

In general, I eat a healthy diet. I don’t eat red meat or poultry for health and ethical reasons. I avoid any food with artificial sweeteners or food dyes and haven’t had a soda or a nonveggie hot dog for 40 years.

When is Food Day and how can I get involved?

  • Food Day is October 24. Go to foodday.org to find events (food tastings, charity dinners, community celebrations) or post your own.
  • Host a potluck dinner and talk about food issues.
  • Volunteer at an event.
  • Bring one of CSPI’s food-themed lesson plans to a classroom in your neighborhood.
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