May 23 2014
Vicki E. Alger
What’s sillier than the federal government, which counts ketchup and pizza sauce as vegetables, dishing out food authenticity regulations? Asking the feds for another helping.
This week the country’s largest hummus producer Sabra Dipping Company petitioned the FDA to regulate chickpea content to ensure food items labeled as hummus are up to snuff. This regulation is needed, say chickpea cheerleaders, to ensure consumers do not confuse hummus with spreads made from black beans, white beans, navy beans, or lentils (horrors!). According to Sabra reps:
The FDA has established standards of identity for a range of categories popular in the American market, including peanut butter, ketchup, mayonnaise, and cream cheese. In addition to alleviating confusion for consumers and preserving the basic nature of the food, the proposed standard would improve the overall quality of hummus in the US food supply by regulating the conditions of its formulation. The proposed standards are consistent with existing standards in place in other regions of the world including the European Union, Israel and Jordan. …’Twenty five percent of American homes purchase hummus regularly and we are pleased to drive this request for standardization. It will benefit the entire category,’ [according to Tulin Tuzel, Sabra Chief Technology Officer].
Let's be clear. The only ones who seem to be confused are the folks at Sabra if they think that Americans want more standardization--especially Americans who regularly purchase exotic foods like hummus. What's more, most adults capable of earning a living and paying for groceries are also capable of reading an ingredient label. Most Americans are also smart enough to realize that Sabra’s main concern is protecting its own bottom line, not the consumer. If Sabra really wanted to protect the integrity of hummus, it would form a voluntary international consortium of industry leaders to certify that products meet their exacting chickpea content standards.
Then again, Sabra itself might not meet those standards, given all the non-standardized, non-chickpea ingredients it adds to its product, such as the oh-so-"authentic" chipotle and jalapeño. In recent years, Lebanon's Association of Lebanese Industrialists has been waging a battle to copyright hummus as its own and to prevent countries like Israel and EU members from marketing their own regional varieties. It seems everybody’s coming to the defense of their hummus’ honor.
Other countries can do as they like, but here in the United States, the land of equal opportunity, producers compete in the open market for our business, and the job of the feds is to keep the playing field level—not to pick and protect its personal favorites.
And, as Reason’s Scott’s Shackford puts it:
We don't need the government to tell us what hummus is. Anybody wanting to be that much of a purist about hummus can make it easily at home in 10 minutes or so.
In fact, I’ll bet our own Julie Gunlock has a great recipe or two.