Egging OFF The Competition

First things first: [1] I have had NO contact with the American Egg Board, nor has that egg-promoting trade group made any attempt to recruit me to promote hens’ eggs over any other source of protein, natural or lab-developed. [2] I love eggs, and eat them regularly (often with bacon, or sausage (and if you haven’t tried Walmart’s own brand, do so) — and [3] more regularly than my doctors might like, despite what the Harvard School of Public Health and/or the iconically-named Mayo Clinic might say.

The Guardian revealed on Sept. 6 that the government-sanctioned American Egg Board (AEB), a promotion-oriented entity created to support the hen, or shell egg industry, has “paid food blogs and targeted [a] chef to crush vegan [egg-alternative] startup” Hampton Creek.”

The Guardian‘s lengthy report said Edelman, “the world’s largest PR firm” (for which: Disclaimer, I worked on one project, nearly 40 years ago), was recruited (and undoubtedly paid big bucks) to “conduct qualitative/quantitative consumer research to pinpoint and prioritize areas of focus” positioned to counteract Hampton Creek’s suggestion — subtly but not very clearly made on its web site — that its powder vegan substitute for eggs is a viable alternative to non-powered oblong food sources produced by actual chickens.

If would appear, from Hampton Creek‘s otherwise largely unhelpful web site, that ‘traditional’ egg producers might well have something to fear from what The Guardian refers to as “a Silicon Valley upstart” with a product designed to replace shelled eggs in such processed products as cookies — which, along with crackers and pasta, many types of which also include eggs/egg products in their too-lengthy ingredient list, account for some $26,000,000,000 ($26 billion) in revenue annually. That, as the saying goes, is not chicken feed. (The egg portion alone accounts for some $5.5 billion a year in revenue, according to a separate Guardian article.)

A significant share of the egg- or egg-like material going into cookies and the like is generated by the “roughly 280 million birds [that] give us about 75 billion eggs per year — about 10 percent of the world supply, according to a web site that, like Hampton Creek, would have you avoid the likes of supermarket-dispensed eggs — even supermarket-sold so-called ‘organic’ ones. Which is, at first glance, ironic, as that web site’s orientation is ‘natural health’ and things that aid or support it.

But, simultaneously, that site offers positive reinforcement to Hampton Creek, in that it suggest — nay, straight-out declares — that eggs from both both ‘free range’ (non caged) chickens and their closely captive counterparts are washed in a way “which leaves your eggs vulnerable to contamination and faster spoilage”. In some instances, commercially-sold eggs (even organic ones) are coated with something, “often mineral oil …a non-natural agent, a petroleum product that was never intended for you to eat.”

For societal  reasons, people often ‘walk on eggshells‘, in the sense of treading lightly regarding what we say to others, but we tend as strenuously avoid eating eggshells (such as the little pieces that sometimes end up in scrambled eggs) because … ew! … the mere crunch of them is thoroughly off-putting.

So much for the mineral oil, or whatever, used to coat eggs — except for this: Egg shells are, like human skin, porous. Your typical egg, which one would be hard pressed to distinguish, physically, from an ‘untypical’ version, contains some 7,500 pores, through which mineral oil — or water, for that matter — might pass, contaminating what the American Egg Board fairly enough promotes as “the incredible edible egg”.

Try this: Crack an egg (carefully, to avoid shell bits being carried along with what it houses) into a bowl. Pour a tablespoon of water over it. What happens? The water rests (probably uncomfortably) on the egg’s undulating surface. It does not join and become part of the egg’s mass. The egg remains, for all intents and purposes, contamination free from whatever it was coated with.

I, for one, find it comforting to think that eggs are washed and sanitarily coated before being presented to me in retail establishments. I know what many of them were resting in, in those no-space-to-spare cages the vast majority of egg producers spend the bulk of their productive lives in. A dozen I purchased in my local Walmart yesterday cost me a measly $2.97, or 24.75 cents per egg.

Hold it a minute.

That was at Walmart, where stuff is supposed to be cheaper (or cheeper, where eggs are concerned) than elsewhere. I can’d cite ‘elsewhere’, but I can cite a couple of egg promotion ads on the AEB web site declaring eggs to have cost, last year, in the neighborhood of 19.58 cents per or 16.66 cents per, depending on which promotion — tied with the purchase of Pillsbury ‘Grand’ biscuits (in the first instance) or, illogically, Keebler crackers, in the second.

Either of those prices represent an amount that is ‘chicken feed’, compared to what I paid. But I can presently pay $1.87 or less per gallon for gasoline, while the national average price is something like $2.60 (as of last week, with retail gas prices falling).

The point? I live/work in Virginia, where egg ‘farming’ isn’t, amazingly, a growth industry, while tobacco farming is a dying one. Tobacco fields, which tend to be in (country) areas where land is, or was, cheap, could easily be reemployed as large-scale ‘free-range chicken’ operations or, less humanely, a caged-chicken egg-production one; Then there’s also the potential for providing locally-grown chickens for the state’s gazillion fried chicken sellers. But, truth be told, most of them are more concerned about ‘finger lickin’ good’, and price — theirs and the consumers — than the actual heritage of the original product.

The originally-quoted Guardian article noted that food blog Hemi Weingarten author (Fooducate) as having published a post reported as sponsored by the AEB. Entitled “10 Reasons to Love Eggs”, it included this sentence: “At just $0.15 each, eggs are the least expensive source of high-quality protein per serving.”

“This language is consistent with one of the American Egg Board’s most regularly used talking points,” The Guardian article said.

I wish I could shop where Hemi does! Or even where the AEB are promoting!

Back to the cookie issue: If eggs are so important in cookie-making, how come someone can come up with five (count ’em) vegan substitutes for them in baking recipes?

But the biggest threat Hampton Creek may pose in the food-selling world is a product it calls ‘Mayo’. The Us Food and Drug Administration has told the company it cannot use that name, because ‘mayonnaise’ must, according the FDA definition of it, contain egg.

More specifically, the FDA regulation says, ” Mayonnaise is the emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s), one or both of the acidifying ingredients specified in paragraph (b) of this section, and one or more of the egg yolk-containing ingredients specified in paragraph (c) of this section. One or more of the ingredients specified in paragraph (d) of this section may also be used. The vegetable oil(s) used may contain an optional crystallization inhibitor as specified in paragraph (d)(7) of this section. All the ingredients from which the food is fabricated shall be safe and suitable. Mayonnaise contains not less than 65 percent by weight of vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be mixed and packed in an atmosphere in which air is replaced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide or nitrogen.”

While that’s certainly more than you ever imagined you’d come to know about that while stuff you slather on sandwiches, the definition does tell you that the government your taxes support takes such stuff as mayonnaise seriously. Very much so. (It might also be argued, as I imagine Hampton Creek is, that such fine attention to detail is an example of government gone mad — of tax dollars being needlessly spent to describe how “some guys mixed a few things together so the resulting product would taste great as a sandwich spread”.

Hampton Creek has, indeed, declared it has no intention of changing the name of its product and, moreover, it will be using Mayo as the base for an expanded range of products that will, they insist, be coming soon to a supermarket and to lot of food service establishments near you.

When Steve Jobs figuratively turned a piece of fruit into a computer, then a range of mobile phones, it took a while for him to gain traction in a competitive field. Hampton Creek could be where Jobs and his then partner Steve Wozniak were in 1978, a year after they formed the Apple Computers company.

Fortunately for them, they never had to rename their product because there always was so clear a distinction between its piece-of-fruit namesake and the object that would, in time, end up on millions and desktops and even more pockets around the world.

If the Hampton Creek folks were smart., they give in on the ‘mayo’ issue and simply rename their core product ‘Better Than Mayo’ or “i’m Like Mayo” — with a very small ‘m’ in ‘I’m’ — leaving both the American Egg Board and the US Food & Drug Administration  with egg on their respective their faces.


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