The Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI) is preparing the ground for a landmark case which would officially register a variety of popular dishes as Lebanese in origin, preventing Israel and other countries from marketing their own versions of the foods under the same names.
ALI, alongside a group of researchers, claim to have the necessary documentation to prove that 25 traditional dishes – including hummus, falafel and tabbouleh – hail from Lebanon and should receive the EU’s Protected Designated Origin status.
Other examples of products with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status include champagne, which can only be made in a specific region of France and Parma ham, which must be produced in its Italian namesake city.
Lebanon is placing its hope on the Greek Feta cheese case of 2002, in which the European court ruled that this fresh white cheese was uniquely linked to Greece, and therefore anyone producing it outside of the country could not use the word feta to describe their product.
A deal made with the EU means Lebanon is entitled to seek European arbitration for its claim to protected status, but they will need a World Trade Organization ruling for the change to affect sales in non-EU markets.
The move, however, has angered some Lebanese food experts and academics, who argue that such dishes should be seen as originating in the general Levant area, covering Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, and that the creation of national borders and Israel in 1948 is irrelevant to the debate.
‘Foods like falafel are not Lebanese but they’re certainly not Israeli either. How can they be when Israel is only 60 years old? … But Lebanon’s borders are only 60 years old as well,’ commented Rami Zurayk, Professor of Agriculture and Ecosystems at the American University of Beirut, and author of a book on Slow Food in Lebanon.
While most agree claiming falafels would be very difficult – Egyptians and Syrians also lay claim to it – Tabbouleh is being touted as Lebanon’s best hope. However, it is the lucrative hummus – chickpea dip – market, worth $1 billion (£590m) worldwide that ALI really wants to secure.