What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Did you stop for an egg sandwich, by any chance?
If so, Panera Bread would like to ruin it for you--assuming, of course, that you had the temerity to stop for an egg sandwich anywhere other than Panera Bread.
How? By hinting strongly that the egg you think you're eating elsewhere might not really be an egg at all.
Oh, it's an egg by the official government definition, of course.
It's just maybe not an egg the way normal, non-governmental people think of eggs (at least, not according to the helpful folks at Panera).
That's why the company petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently to crack down (.PDF link, by the way).
For example, Panera suggests the FDA might announce that an egg combined with "additives, such as butter-type flavors, gums, and added color," could not be called an egg.
Instead, it would have to be called an "egg product," or an "egg patty."
Which sounds a little less appetizing, and which, not all all coincidentally, is what some of its competitors serve in their egg sandwiches.
Perhaps you're not up to speed on FDA regulations. According to The Washington Post, it's true: the FDA rules actually say that "no regulation shall be promulgated" to define "the food commonly known as eggs."
So, you could theoretically take anything you wanted and advertise it as an egg.
An egg plus a bunch of additives could be called an "egg," for example--or for that matter, a crumpled up piece of paper filled with cigarette butts. At least in theory.
Or even, any other gross and disgusting thing you might be imagining right now--and which, I'm guessing, Panera might not mind you imagining (as long as you're imagining it about somebody else's egg sandwiches).
Because it announced its FDA petition while touting the launch of its own new breakfast sandwiches, which it says feature "100 percent real eggs."
With the FDA's definition as it is, many fast-food breakfast places are free to "buy precooked, frozen egg patties to reheat onsite, or they cook their eggs from bulk liquid egg products," according to the Post.
(McDonald's, apparently, is one of the exceptions, using "fresh-cracked eggs in its Egg McMuffins.")
And, some "eggs" also "frequently contain preservatives to extend shelf-life, colorants to approve appearance, and starches and gums to help the liquid flow evenly on hot pans."
Those are just details, however. Panera probably doesn't want you to get bogged down in the details.
Because there's good reason to doubt the FDA will find this a pressing enough matter to act on.
For one thing, the competitors who serve egg-plus-other-stuff sandwiches are pretty open about it. And nobody is saying there's a public health issue to worry about here.
But that would seem to be fine with Panera, since simply by filing the petition they've started a debate that makes their menu look better and simultaneously makes their competitors' seem suspect, or maybe even a little gross.
"When a consumer orders an 'egg,' they expect to get an egg," Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy at Panera, told The Washington Post, adding, "We hope the FDA seriously considers our petition. But even if they don't... we're happy with the conversation we've created."