It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in nutrition to know that a pile of pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs is not a healthy breakfast. Except, apparently, when it comes to the nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who recently filed a lawsuit against the restaurant chain Denny’s, claiming that its food needs a warning label for its salt content. This media stunt, which is only the latest among many, is simply another step in the group’s quest to dictate what Americans can and cannot eat, one lawsuit and food tax at a time.
CSPI has developed a bad habit of using lawsuits, or the threat of them, to shake down companies. Executive Director Michael Jacobson recently remarked, “We used to file all sorts of complaints with the government. Sometimes we’d get a response, but usually nothing happened. Now, when we have told companies that we’re going to sue them, they show up in our office the next week.” The Denny’s lawsuit is just one part of CSPI’s broader plan to restrict food choices for all of us.
CSPI has filed dozens of press-conference lawsuits, but despite the out-of-court media circuses it typically creates, the group has yet to win any major in-court victories. The complaint against Denny’s is similar to a lawsuit CSPI filed against Kentucky Fried Chicken over trans fat. In that case, nutritional information already was provided in every KFC restaurant – as well as on the Internet – but that didn’t satisfy CSPI. Anyone who wants to know the nutritional content of their Grand Slam breakfast can do so – the information is available in many Denny’s restaurants and on the company’s Web site. Ironically, CSPI’s lawsuit was based on the nutrition information from Denny’s Web site. The information was available for anyone who wanted to look for it.
CSPI’s anti-salt crusade doesn’t stop with baseless litigation. CSPI seeks extra taxes on salty foods and government regulations on how much salt is allowed in a variety of foods. The group even wants to create a new federal bureaucracy, the “FDA Division of Salt Reduction.”
Salt shakers aren’t CSPI’s only target; it is seeking bans or taxes on a wide range of nutrients and foods in its quest to forcefully re-engineer recipes across the country.
Jacobson previously quipped that CSPI takes pride in “finding something wrong with practically everything.” In May, he testified at a Senate committee hearing in favor of a $1.5 billion national drink tax that would raise the price of soda, sports drinks and other beverages. In the past, he’s advocated for taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheese and meat.
Why do these activists have no qualms about abusing the legal system to push their agendas? The self-anointed “food police” at CSPI think that they know what’s best for everyone, and that means you and me. CSPI folks believe they are their brother’s keeper; the problem is that they are a very big brother in the Orwellian sense.
Rather than giving us the tools to lead a healthy life, CSPI’s logic suggests that we’re incapable of eating healthy on our own, that personal responsibility has failed and that the only solution is draconian government regulation. But such narrow-minded thinking ignores the fact that it took personal responsibility to put the weight on, and millions of Americans have used personal responsibility (e.g. eating less and exercising more) to lose weight. The difference is that CSPI wants us to lose weight, whether we want to or not.
People eat bacon, sausage, hash browns and eggs because they taste good, not as a part of a weight loss regimen. CSPI is truly shameless to sue a restaurant for serving hash browns while “hiding” the sodium content in plain sight on brochures in the restaurant and on the Internet.
Though CSPI will keep blustering about sodium, the group’s lawsuit should be taken with a grain of salt. Jacobson and others like him will keep suing until our meals are devoid of so much as a hint of flavor. The healthiest thing Americans can do is ignore them.
Wilson is the senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers.