11/21/2014 10:20 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

The Mayo Wars


Around 77 A.D., Pliny, an army commander of the early Roman Empire, first wrote of a condiment that has been at the center of a lawsuit this week. "When garlic is beaten up in oil and vinegar, it swells up in foam to a surprising size." That ancient condiment, called "allioli," which has evolved into the mayonnaise slathered on your burger, was made without chicken eggs -- requiring only garlic, olive oil, and salt.

Hellmann's, chicken egg and all, first went into production in 1912.

Its parent company, Unilever, is one of the world's largest companies with revenues of more than $60 billion a year. Unilever claims that Hampton Creek is violating the standard of identify for mayonnaise -- stemming from pre-World War II regulations -- because we're using plants instead of chicken eggs in what is now America's most popular condiment. Unilever filed a lawsuit last week to remove Hampton Creek's mayo from Walmart, Safeway, Target, ShopRite, The Dollar Tree, Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger -- more than 22,000 locations in all.

This mayo war has started a national conversation about a regulatory framework that could be more helpful than hurtful to the types of innovations required to solve obesity and environmental stress. And at the heart of the lawsuit is a Hampton Creek belief that requires a different, but ironically traditional, approach to food: The only way the good food choice wins is when the good choice is better. Stated simply: If it's not affordable and delicious, it's completely irrelevant to solving the problem. Just ask your dad.

That belief is the reason why data scientists from Google, and biochemists from Stanford, and chefs from Food and Wine's top 50 restaurants call Hampton Creek home. And to make Just Mayo, we use plants -- including a hint of garlic -- instead of factory chicken eggs. The plants we use, including a varietal of the Canadian yellow pea, are 48 percent more cost effective than chicken eggs, are more carbon-efficient, and use less water. For Hampton Creek, mayo is just the start. And our plant screening technology is closer to the ingenuity of a few thousand years ago than to the mindset spurring this lawsuit on.

With the media attention over the past several weeks, let's not forget that while Unilever and Hampton Creek may be in conflict at the moment, there's far more that unites the two companies. We admire how it's often strived to solve urgent needs -- from water scarcity to malnutrition and gender equality. We "cannot close our eyes to the problems the world faces," its corporate ethos reads. The thousands of human beings that make up Unilever have names. They have families. They have goofy dogs and insane cats. They are you. And much like you, they are just trying to figure things out. And it was in response to an avian flu outbreak in 2006, an internal R&D effort was rightfully launched to emulate what the Romans did centuries ago: whip up mayo without the chicken egg. Today Unilever still proudly states that it's exploring "plant-based protein sources through the use of egg-replacement ingredients..."

Here's what the world should know: Hampton Creek was founded to open our eyes to the problems the world faces. This moment has only validated why.