CSPI: Kings of Gripe

The food scolds at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have long had bones to pick with — well, seemingly everything that tastes good, from movie theater popcorn to fettuccine alfredo. One of CSPI’s best-known ongoing campaigns, along with trying to replace “yummy” with “food porn," has been to demonize soft drinks, which the group calls “liquid candy” in the hope that governments will tax them. Today, Consumer Affairs reports that CSPI has taken its extreme self-righteousness to new levels, attacking a soft drink maker for reducing the portion sizes of its drinks, and thus “charging more money for less product.”
Putting aside the issue of marginal cost economics for beverages (the reason a 20 oz. coffee doesn’t cost twice as much as a 10 oz. coffee), it’s hard to see why CSPI is complaining. In fact, CSPI has often grumbled about large portion sizes. On its Nutrition Policy website, CSPI blames large portions as one reason why it’s “hard to eat well”:

[S]oft drink portion sizes have greatly increased.  In the 1950s, a bottle of Coke was 6 ½ ounces. Now, it’s most commonly 20 ounces…

CSPI, if anything, should be issuing a congratulatory press release to soda companies for actually listening to its complaints. But that praise, apparently, is only for companies that sell boiled kale, navy beans, and butternut squash. Even Kelly “Big Brother” Brownell, no fan of soft drink makers, wasn’t negative on this portion reduction: “In principle, it’s good to offer smaller servings.”
There’s little doubt that CSPI, which sees endless value in heavy-handed regulations, feels threatened by proactive, self-regulatory approaches that don’t include their own brand of culinary handcuffs. Could this latest food tantrum indicate a Marion Nestle-inspired anti-capitalist streak at CSPI? Perhaps it’s just a reminder that you can’t spell “hypocrisy” without C-S-P-I.

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