The so-called Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has spent the last few decades proclaiming that it is certain of what a healthy diet is — in the words of organization president and co-founder Michael Jacobson, “a pound of bread, a spud, and a couple of carrots per day.” So when journalist and diet book author Nina Teicholz openly questioned the received wisdom from CSPI and the government Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) that saturated fat is bad in the BMJ medical journal (formerly known as the British Medical Journal), CSPI demanded that the article be retracted.
Now, Teicholz has been disinvited from the National Food Policy Conference, held today by the activist group Consumer Federation of America in Washington. She was supposed to appear on a panel debating the DGA advice with Margo Wootan of CSPI. (Her replacement, amusingly, is a representative of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education—a fan of Mr. Jacobson’s spud.)
If Teicholz is right that red meat, cheese, and butter aren’t nearly the dietary demons that CSPI and the DGA committee have made them out to be, it wouldn’t be the first time activists with the government’s ear have been catastrophically wrong about diet and nutrition. CSPI itself is notorious for demanding that restaurants use trans fat cooking oil—finding that “the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up”—only to demand later that they be banned.
You would think that the food police would be somewhat humbled after a fiasco of that grade, but don’t count on it. Other researchers have called into question the validity of the evidence that the government uses to formulate the DGAs, noting that the “memory-based recall methods” on which surveys rely are inconsistent and unverifiable.
That hasn’t stopped CSPI, the government, and others from pushing to marginalize critics like Teicholz. It’s not clear whether her particular claims are correct—all dietary advice beyond “Eat a varied diet, don’t eat too much, and remember to play outside after dinner” is almost uselessly imprecise and can prove counterproductive. That’s as good an argument as any for the government—and the nanny pressure groups like CSPI—to keep out.