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Words with the CSPI Founder
Michael Jacobson might be the restaurant industry’s most-dangerous adversary. In this exclusive interview, Jacobson tells why some people should have their heads examined, and how he’s on friendly speaking terms with McDonald’s executives.
Michael Jacobson, founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson, founder of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has received widespread criticism over the years for trying to change the restaurant industry. Most recently, the National Restaurant Association criticized CSPI’s X-treme Eating report, saying: “Pointing to a select few menu items at a select few restaurants as being high in calories…is misleading, inaccurate, and does the public a grave disservice.” That’s the kind of pushback Jacobson has come to expect since creating CSPI in 1971. Here’s his side of the story.

Who funds your organization?

We have 900,000 subscribers to our Nutrition Action Healthletter. And that’s the great bulk of our funding base. We get 5 percent from philanthropic foundations. We don’t take industry money or government money.

Do you sell ads in your newsletter?


Who is your average subscriber?

A 60-year-old, college educated, suburban woman. I would say they’re a little bit to the left [politically].

How much revenue does CSPI generate?

Our total budget is around $16 million a year—$12 million comes from subscriptions, $3 million from donations, and maybe a million from the foundation and other sources.

How much money do you make?

About $180,000.

You seem to be passionate about changing the way Americans eat. Why?

There’s a moral and health aspect to what’s driving me and other people here. The foods we’re eating are contributing to our own death in some cases. And many companies have encouraged kids to eat diets that are basically burgers, fries, and Cokes—meals that are bad for the kids’ health. And the government does nothing about it. Kids, in particular, should be encouraged by the whole society to eat the healthiest diet. And adults should have information so they can choose healthier diets, and government should be helping all of us. Personal responsibility is certainly significant, but there’s corporate and government responsibility to help people choose healthier diets.

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