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Last September, after CSPI urged it to ban Quorn, the British Food Standards Agency noted that "any protein-containing food has the potential to cause an allergic reaction," and research before Quorn was introduced in the U.K. indicated "a low level of intolerance to the product." The agency added that "it is important to recognize that several commonly consumed foods and food ingredients have much higher intolerance levels [than Quorn]. For example, the intolerance to soya is reported to be 1 in 300 and that to shellfish, even higher....Taking into account that those who are intolerant to [Quorn] are able to avoid it by studying the label...the Food Standards Agency does not consider that, on present evidence, it would be right to prevent those who currently enjoy this product from being able to continue to purchase it if they wish."
CSPI's Quorn intolerance can be explained partly by the group's quest for publicity (hence Jacobson's hope that Quorn would be "the next olestra"), partly by its aversion to "artificial" foods ("mold grown in vats" vs. "farm-grown ingredients"). Could it also be that Quorn is simply too good a simulation of meat? Perhaps this "dead-ringer for poultry" raised red flags at CSPI because, like olestra, it seemed to offer something for nothing.
Driven to Drink
Given the heaping helpings of anxiety that CSPI dishes out along with its nutritional advice, the group's followers must often feel the urge for a drink. Naturally, they are supposed to resist it. Is Our Food Safe? concedes that moderate alcohol consumption "may lower your risk of heart disease." But CSPI has long resisted attempts to publicize that fact. It went so far as to condemn the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for allowing wineries to include a suggestion on their labels that consumers seeking "information on the health effects of wine consumption" consult the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
That pamphlet's section on alcohol is a litany of warnings that includes one positive statement: "Drinking in moderation may lower risk for coronary heart disease, mainly among men over age 45 and women under age 55." CSPI maintains that telling consumers about the guidelines "could increase alcohol problems." George Hacker, CSPI's director of alcohol policies, explains: "Just suggesting that there are potential health benefits in consuming small amounts of alcohol may help heavy drinkers rationalize their unhealthy consumption and justify their dependency."
What about the rest of us? "If you do not drink," Is Our Food Safe? advises, "do not start. Exercising and eating better are much safer ways to improve your health." Since there's nothing inherently dangerous about moderate alcohol consumption, one suspects the crucial point is that working out and dieting are much less fun than drinking. For CSPI, the idea that a pleasure could be not only harmless but healthy is anathema. CSPI is determined to find the catch, even when there is none.
If CSPI's hypervigilant lifestyle seems overwhelming, you can start small. Avoiding olestra and Quorn is easy enough. Then you can move on to alcohol, caffeine, diet soda, nonorganic produce, salt, sugar, fat, and the rest of CSPI's food taboos. Soon, perhaps, you will feel safer and healthier, or at least more virtuous. For my part, I think I'll try some cheese fries with ranch dressing. They've never tempted me before, but if CSPI says they're "worse than anything we've analyzed," they must be pretty damned good.