Meryl Streep's Junk Science

By ACSH Staff — Sep 02, 2009
This piece -- and numerous reader comments upon it -- originally appeared in the National Post:

This piece -- and numerous reader comments upon it -- originally appeared in the National Post:

Meryl Streep, star of the movie Julie & Julia, lashed out this past weekend at the world-famous chef she portrays on screen. In an interview with the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Ms. Streep claims that Julia Child's cuisine caused heart disease and calls Child "a pawn of big business." In the process, she attempts to smear the organization I head up, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

Let me share with you the actual facts about Julia Child -- and ACSH.

I got to know Julia some twenty-five years ago. She was no shrinking violet; she was extremely outspoken. She had two major food-related pet peeves: - She despised people who demonized specific foods, like meat, butter and sugar. - She loathed activists who terrified people about the safety of their food.

The two most common statements that Julia would utter on these issues were: "all foods are safe in moderation" and "food is to be enjoyed, not feared."

Ms. Streep attacks the memory of Julia Child by stating that Julia "resisted making a connection between the high-fat diet of heavily-laden cordon bleu-influenced cuisine and cholesterol levels." Nonsense. For Julia, there were no "good foods" or "bad foods" -- just a variety of foods, all in moderation, including an occasional cordon bleu. Julia, unlike her fictional counterpart, exhibited a constant stream of common sense.

Ms. Streep goes on to state that Julia was "in the thrall of something called the American Council on Science and Health, which was a front organization for agro-businesses and petrochemical businesses. They seduced Julia into giving them money."

Here is the real deal: In the spring of 1989, the U. S. experienced its most extensive (and expensive) food scare. And Meryl Streep orchestrated it. She told Americans that apples were "contaminated" with the agricultural chemical Alar (a growth regulator) and that children eating apples were at risk of cancer and other diseases (CBS's 60 Minutes chimed in with a similar story, complete with photos of apples, skull and crossbones, and children in cancer wards). Ms. Streep was omnipresent in the media with her scary message. As I often pointed out, we had an "actress suddenly turned toxicologist" intent on scaring parents about the safety of apples.

My organization, ACSH, was quick to respond. The Alar scare was totally without scientific merit. By the early 1990s, authorities ranging from the World Health Organization to U. S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop confirmed that there was never any health risk posed by the use of Alar. Even the late Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes, told me that he regretted having done the Alar segment, but Ed Bradley, the producer of the piece, refused to retract it.

Julia Child was furious at Meryl Streep for her role in the apple scare. She told me so. Meryl Streep was completely discredited as a credible source about "safer foods" -- so it is astounding that she would bring this subject up again some twenty years later. Her accusation that ACSH was/is a front for petrochemical and agricultural interests is absurd. The organization is funded by a full spectrum of foundations, individuals and unrestricted grants from corporations. It covers public health topics as diverse as swine flu, bioterrorism, cigarette smoking and AIDS. ACSH is directed and advised by nearly 400 independent scientists -- and reports on pure science, not hype. Meryl Streep may be an excellent actress, but she has not proven herself knowledgeable about food safety, nutrition and health, Julia Child, or ACSH. When these subjects come up, she'd be better off keeping quiet or just reading her script.