Food Fight in the News: Who Owns Hummus and Tabbouleh?

Over the weekend, Lebanon shattered three food-related Guinness World Records: Largest plate of hummus (over 2 tons), largest plate of tabbouleh (nearly 4 tons), and largest plate in general. (I liked the headline over this news brief in the Washington Post Express this morning: "Tragically, Giant ...

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Over the weekend, Lebanon shattered three food-related Guinness World Records: Largest plate of hummus (over 2 tons), largest plate of tabbouleh (nearly 4 tons), and largest plate in general. (I liked the headline over this news brief in the Washington Post Express this morning: "Tragically, Giant Pita is Overlooked.")

Between this and the 500-pound kibbeh (a snack made of minced meat and bulgur wheat) which earned Lebanon a world record earlier this year, you could be forgiven for calling the country obsessed with setting records. But this is no mere hobby; it's a culinary campaign—specifically against Israel, the previous hummus record holder—to establish national ownership of these foods and the economic potential they represent. The name of the recent event says it all: The "Hummus and Tabbouleh are 100 percent Lebanese" festival. Neal Ungerleider has a good post on this topic at True/Slant.

Last year, the head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association told the media that his group planned to sue Israel for "stealing" hummus and other dishes (though as far as I can tell, no lawsuit has materialized), citing the precedent of feta cheese, a food name that the European Union has ruled belongs exclusively to Greece. And then, of course, there's France's champagne and Rocquefort cheese, Italy's Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, and hundreds of other food products with "protected designations of origin" under European Union rules. (India's Darjeeling tea could be next.)

What do you think, should a country or region be allowed to lay exclusive claim to particular foods or food products?

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About Amanda Fiegl

Amanda Fiegl is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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