Texas couple sues the state after they refused to budge on the definition of 'pickle'

Texas couple sues the state after they refused to budge on the definition of 'pickle'

The internet has an odd obsession with pickles - you don't have to look hard to find someone defending the brined cucumber or doing unconventional things with it. Take the guys over at Delish for example, never afraid to one-up themselves, the team decided there isn't enough "pickle-ness" in the world and made pickle mozzarella sticks and pickle cake in quick succession (auto correct changed "pickle mozzarella stick" to "pizza mozzarella stick" four times before giving up - even the internet knows that this is insane). While pickle mozzarella sticks sound kind of delicious, you have to admit people's obsession with the stuff is insane.

Somewhere along the way in this manifestation of toxic fanfare, the definition of "pickle" got changed, and Anita and Jim McHaney aren't too happy about it.

More than a decade ago, the McHaneys left their careers, bought ten acres of land in Robertson County, Texas, and decided to spend their golden years with their sleeves rolled to their elbows as they planted kale, collard greens, and beets. Most of that went to plan: They became favourites at the local farmers’ market and grew beets that “you would not believe,” as Anita put it.

After three years of the kind of exhausting labor most of us only experience through John Steinbeck novels, they thought they’d found a way to make a little more money with a little less physical effort. The Associated Press says that the couple realized that if they pickled some their vegetables - okra, carrots, peaches and those unbelievable beets - they might have a better financial return, earn enough to cover the costs of their farm and stop having to throw so much old produce to their neighbours’ cows.

But, before you can say “double cheeseburger with extra pickles,” they quickly discovered that Texas had taken a break from meddling in women’s reproductive rights to crack down on any kind of pickle that wasn’t made from cucumbers and cucumbers only.

When they looked into their pickling possibilities, they quickly learned that a regulation that the state passed in 2014 answers the question “what is a pickle?” with a bizarrely restrictive definition: “Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in vinegar, brine, or a similar solution,” the Texas Department of State Human Services writes. “All other pickled vegetables are prohibited.”

According to the Texas Tribune, the pickle definition is part of the state’s Cottage Food Law, which allows Texans to sell baked goods, popcorn, and cucumber only pickles at farmers’ markets and festivals without having to become licensed food manufacturers.

In order to pickle additional vegetables, the couple would have to get a food manufacturers’ license, in addition to installing a commercial-grade kitchen, taking a training course and adhering to a number of other rules and regulations.

“It turns out it's just very difficult to meet all of the rules to make a pickled beet. You'd think that it would be easy, but it’s not,” Anita told the Tribune. “Every time we thought we had figured out what we had to do to meet all the rules, we found another one.”

The McHaneys have stopped farming, for now—and all of those beets were given to the cows. They’ve also filed a lawsuit against the Department of State Health Services for violating their ability to “earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice, free from unreasonable governmental interference.” All they want is to be reimbursed for their court costs, to have that law declared unconstitutional and to be allowed to pickle whatever vegetables they damn well please without having to get a license.

Worse yet - and this is the most depressing kind of irony - the couple never figured out a way to make cucumbers grow on their farm. “We don't do very well [with] cucumbers on our place,” Jim says. “You know different crops have different homes.” Free the pickle, I say.