Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Surreptitious Salad, Clandestine Cabbage

It's not quite alliteration, but I tried.

I had seen on the front Yahoo page a weeks ago that Jessica Seinfeld had a cookbook out which was somehow controversial, but I never clicked the link to find out how it was controversial, as I didn't really care. However, I finally did take a look today and discovered that the controversy is about possible plagiarism, my pretty pet petunia. Seinfeld's book is called Deceptive Delicious, published by Harper Collins, and uses the idea of hiding vegetables in other dishes. Meanwhile, there was a slightly earlier book by Missy Chase Lapine, called The Sneaky Chef, which has the same idea. Most interestingly, Lapine's book was published by the Running Press, after it was turned down by Harper Collins. Seinfeld claims to have never heard of Lapine's book.

Now, the thing is, a couple years ago, we bought a cookbook called Healthy Cooking for Kids or something similar, and, while the author never makes a things of it, what she's done is put lots of vegetables inside other dishes like casseroles. Moreover, I cannot imagine that these three cookbook authors are the first people to which it's ever occurred to hide vegies in a casserole. N hates peas and talks about, at the age of 6, hiding as few peas as she could get away with in her mashed potatoes in order to get them down. In short, the idea is old.

However, I do wonder a little bit on where the Deceptively Delicious title came from, because that title is indeed very much like The Sneaky Chef. Did Seinfeld name her book herself, or did that title come from Harper Collins? If so, how far along the editorial path did The Sneaky Chef get at Harper before being rejected? In short, the most likely plagiarizers here seem to be Harper Collins, not Seinfeld. But even still, Lapine has a problem, as I don't think you can copyright a title, much less the idea of a title, which is why there are many repeated title names.

Of course, this is all moot if Seinfeld's recipes are all copies of Lapine's. Even here, however, you have to be careful as there are only so many ways to make tuna casserole -- with or without peas.


Anonymous said...

Newsflash! Dateline: Long Island, NY October 31, 2007 Unconfirmed reports from the neighbors of Jerry Seinfeld say that noted celebrity cook/child nutritionist and wife, Jessica Seinfeld, deciphered the vegetable formula for the well guarded V8 vegetable drink earlier today while only using a blender and toothpicks. Ms. Seinfeld was overhead as saying, "I will improve V8 with capers!. Ta!"

Anonymous said...

Go ahead and hide the vegetable. Moms are already sneaking the Ritalin into their children’s diet. Hey, why don’t they hide the homework by calling it playtime. Yeh, math is the new baseball. Give me a break! What great deniers were are raising.

About the controversial (read: plagiarized?)

TWO books which are:

both cookbooks
shown to the same publisher
in the same year
with the same UNIQUE recipes
on the same UNIQUE cooking concept
by authors who live in the same city
with nearly IDENTICAL book covers
both pitched to OPRAH


pacatrue said...

I need to make offhand comments about current issues more often, because I get the most random people coming through here when I do. I should say, the most anonymous people.

I'm not quite sure what to do with anonymous 1, so I thought I'd reply to anonymous 2.

You first part about hiding vegies and pretending homework is baseball. I'm not sure if that's a criticism of my post, or of society. If the latter, I understand your point, but it can certainly be taken too far. There's nothing wrong with trying to make things enjoyable for people, particularly children. It's why doctors give out stickers after immunizations. If the broader point is that deception is dangerous, I accept it overall. I think it is important to make vegies taste good rather than be hidden. A part of that might be adding vegies to other dishes. It's kind of like how many people learn to drink coffee. It's a really strong taste which might be rejected by itself, and so you get used to it by starting with a splash of coffee and a lot of milk, cream, and sugar. Then you slowly reduce until you enjoy the coffee all by itself. I'm not saying training kids to like coffee is so great, as I don't even drink it, but certain things do have to be learned, including some very strong vegetables.

As for your list, I wanted to comment on each item, as we agree in some places and disagree in others. I will put the original in ALL CAPS and me in Regular.

TWO BOOKS - my point is that I have a third even earlier book which is similar, but I don't think Lapine or Seinfeld plagiarized from it.

SHOWN TO THE SAME PUBLISHER - yes, I agree, the most likely wrongdoing so far is by the publisher, HarperCollins, if there was wrongdoing at all. This is the only possible direct contact between the books that we have so far (or at least that I have; I've only read a single article by an entertainment web site).

IN THE SAME YEAR - Agreed, HarperCollins should respond with information.

WITH THE SAME UNIQUE RECIPES - This was my final paragraph in the original blog entry. Yes, if the recipes are all the same, then explanation needs to occur. It would depend upon how close and how many. It's going to be hard to establish "uniqueness" but if it can be done, that's very damaging to Seinfeld. The thing about all this is that there should be evidence. Ms. Seinfeld surely did not write down every single recipe in her cookbook in a single night and then ship it to Harper Collins who printed it up. She will have collected recipes over several months and years. She wil have written and rewritten the book. She will have sent a book proposal. There will be an email chain between herself and her editors. All of these things will have date time stamps on the computer.

WITH THE SAME UNIQUE COOKING CONCEPT - again, my point is that the concept doesn't seem unique, but in fact very old. However, I haven't read the cookbooks, so maybe they took vegie deception to a whole new level.

BY AUTHORS WHO LIVE IN THE SAME CITY. - Granted I've never lived in NYC, but I don't think all 20 million people have met each other, much less shared recipe cards.

WITH NEARLY IDENTICAL BOOK COVERS - Neither Seinfeld nor Lapine designed their book covers (unless they are rare exceptions). Instead the art department at their respective publishers did all the work. At best, the authors had veto power, but likely not even that. This again points to Harper Collins as the possible culprit, not Seinfeld. But again, there should be email chains at Harper Collins on this between the editors and the art department, all of which have time stamps. Even with this, however, many covers are intentionally done in the style of similar works. Every looked at ChickLit covers? They are a bit similar.

BOTH PITCHED TO OPRAH - I hope so! If an agent or editor thinks they have a decent shot of getting a book on Oprah, they better pitch it.

In sum, if the recipes are indeed copies from one book to the next, and there is no record of Seinfeld ever working on the recipes or book over time, then that's where the real problems come in. Otherwise, HarperCollins is the one people should be focused on. Of course, no one has any interest in this issue by itself. The only interest is in the wife of Jerry Seinfeld.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Seinfeld has a NEW book out; it’s called, “The Joy of Cooking with Cinnimon.” Early readings show that the recipes are similar to well-known cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking,” except that cinnimon has been added to every recipe. Jerry Seinfeld has already scheduled for Letterman next week.

Let's take a quick look at the William Morris agent who brought Jessica Seinfeld to Harper Collins. Her name is Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. Name sound familiar? Probably not. But, she is also the agent of Kaavya Viswanathan who is the Harvard sophomore who was proved to have plagiarised her best selling book.