The headlines are rife with puns this week. The American Egg Board is scrambling to explain why some of its members used background channels to try to prevent an eggless competitor from being sold on grocery store shelves.
The sordid tale was unveiled after the owners of the egg-free vegan ‘mayo’ product Just Mayo filed a Freedom of Information Request with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The result was a souffle of innuendos and offbeat inferences to Just Mayo’s “misleading” brand and a litany of sometimes comical exchanges.
“You want me to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit?” wrote one board member to another. He was referring to Just Mayo’s founder, who had refused to stop selling his product or to change its name. Worse, Just Mayo was taking the vegan market by storm and had actually prompted the outgoing AEB chair to express her concern about its competitive streak.
Some pundits have tried to suggest that the AEB’s increased media efforts against Just Mayo and its owner, Hampton Creek, constituted lobbying against a competitor, which the board is forbidden to do by law. Marketing its product — the egg — is okay. Slamming or allegedly blocking products it sees as competitors is not.
But perhaps the true ethical issue here really isn’t the fact that the emails suggest an open warfare against a competitor. It’s that there’s an actual need for products like Just Mayo — a need that companies like Hellmanns failed to meet as well for years.
Products like Just Mayo, and Vegenaise, and other similar labels don’t just appease the vegan consumer base. They allow people with food allergies and awkward autoimmune diseases like Celiac disease to enjoy a palatable diet.
Some 15 million people in the country suffer from food allergies. The most prevalent and life-threatening cases afflict children, who make up the lion’s share of the statistics when it comes to egg and soy allergies. As many as 3.5 percent of young children are at risk of anaphylactic shock if they eat eggs.
And while corn doesn’t get as much attention as egg, wheat, milk, nuts or shellfish, it is often shown to be an added problem for people with Celiac disease, who have challenged immune systems and may present with more symptoms than an intolerance to gluten. So, having a ‘mayonnaise’ that doesn’t contain eggs or corn — and complements a gluten-free, restrictive lifestyle — makes sense.
Just Mayo’s claim to fame comes from the very thing that is taking industries by storm these days: advanced technology. Who would have thought that lives could be transformed by the lowly pea? And as unappealing as things like desiccated pea and garbanzo bean may sound, those options have expanded the potential of the vegetarian/vegan food industry even further, by allowing products to be made without potentially life-threatening ingredients.
Sadly, the American Egg Board’s emails overlook the motivator that has always made U.S. innovation great: the desire and willingness to work harder to best the accomplishments of yesterday’s products. Creating a better, healthier and more innovative answer to consumer dilemmas will often trump the palate, even when it comes to quintessential American heroes like the egg.
Image credit: Flickr/Patrick Hurley