22 January 2008

Cooking Karma aka Vegie-Gate

Cookbook Author Sues
Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld

for Copyright Infringement and Defamation

NEW YORK, Jan. 7

Attorneys for Missy Chase Lapine, author of "The Sneaky Chef," today filed a lawsuit against Jessica Seinfeld and Jerry Seinfeld for copyright and trademark infringement and defamation in Federal District Court in New York.

The lawsuit alleges that Jessica Seinfeld blatantly plagiarized Ms. Lapine's book, "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals," a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful cookbook with an innovative approach to improving children's eating habits.

"The Sneaky Chef" shows parents how to, among other things, camouflage purees of carefully selected fruits and vegetables as ingredients in less healthy foods that kids like, such as cheeseburgers, pizza and brownies. Running Press Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, published "The Sneaky Chef" in April, 2007, generating positive reviews and quickly becoming a New York Times bestseller.

Six months later, in October, 2007, Jessica Seinfeld released a substantially similar book, "Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Getting Your Kids Eating Good Food."

Prior to the publication of "Deceptively Delicious," Ms. Lapine saw promotional material and alerted her publisher to the striking similarities between the two books, including cover art, subtitles, structure, design and overall look and feel.

Running Press, seeking to prevent any violation of Ms. Lapine's rights, brought the striking similarities to the attention of Jessica Seinfeld's publisher.

Jessica Seinfeld's publisher, which had earlier reviewed and passed up a book
proposal by Ms. Lapine, nonetheless published the book with only insignificant changes. The lawsuit lists detailed examples of identical language in the two books.

At the same time, Jerry Seinfeld went on a malicious campaign against Ms. Lapine, publicly calling her a "nut job" and "hysterical." On an appearance on 'Late Show with David Letterman' in October 2007, Mr. Seinfeld called Ms. Lapine a "wacko" who had been "waiting in the woodwork" for a chance to attack the Seinfelds. He also asserted, incorrectly, that the two books came out "at the same time." The lawsuit cites several examples of defamatory language by Mr. Seinfeld, apparently intended to intimidate Ms. Lapine.

"This action for copyright and trademark infringement and defamation arises from conduct that gives new meaning to the terms 'arrogance' and 'greed,'" states the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also points out that Ms. Lapine is the former publisher of Eating Well magazine, is on the faculty of the New School and has extensive experience in child nutrition. She also serves on the Children's Advisory Council of Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, where "The Sneaky Chef" recipesare used with pediatric patients.

The lawsuit also notes that Ms. Lapine began researching methods for getting children to eat healthier foods five years before her book came out. She conducted numerous taste tests, focus groups and interviews, consulting extensively with leading nutritionists, pediatricians and chefs.

Ms. Lapine is represented by Marc E. Kasowitz and Mark P. Ressler of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP.

SOURCE Marc Kasowitz,
Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP

It is proven that the power of celebrity and strong Media Public Relations can have a significant impact on the success of an idea. It is also a dead certain way in the USA to attract litigation. Jerry Seinfeld with his celebrity clout and Jessica with her PR background are now discovering this.

It seems their cook book's publicity backfired after an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey show, when as per usual Oprah was pushing all kinds of food that had been sitting under studio lights into her mouth voraciously. A number of viewers began to report the similarity between the two books, and as it turned out, Ms Lapine’s proposal had been circulating long before the Mrs Seinfeld nee Ms Sclar’s, but as it lacked the ‘Star power’ that the Seinfeld name wields, had seen some early rejections from Publishers.

Jerry Seinfeld’s attempt at damage control, or perhaps to garner further PR has resulted in a defamation suit. You can read the actual papers filed against the Seinfelds on The Smoking Gun.

Now I am not a fan of Jessica Seinfeld’s ideas or of her cookbook. I abhor both author’s concept of treating growing children like infants by feeding them pureed vegetables when they refuse to eat healthy foods. Hiding vegetables in other food? Hiding spinach in brownies and Kumara in hot chocolate? You’ve got to be kidding.

How is a child to learn about the texture in food and contrasts of taste when you pasteurise their diet to feature only what their unsophisticated palates and minds want? How do you expect a child to grow into a vegetable eating adult when they’ve never seen whole vegetables on their plate? How will that young mind react when believing that they hate vegetables, they find out that you’ve been duping them?

I think Oprah Winfrey was remiss in promoting Jessica’s book and helping to send it to the top of Amazon’s best selling list. Nutritionally, eating twice-cooked pureed food does not give much benefit in terms of fibre or dental and gastrointestinal health to a growing body.

OK, I admit I’m not a mother but I have had experience with obstreperous children and I know that you never give a child the upper hand over you. Their brains are developing, they do not know what’s good for them and as adults it is our task to teach them right from wrong.

The fun in food is in discovering new things and experimenting with colours, textures and flavours. The theatre of dining and the kitchen can be very entertaining for children and the earlier you involve them, the better equipped they will be to make healthy eating second nature.

But sadly I think there is a certain kind of parent who does not realise this, and I think that in the US especially, the demise of sitting down to a family meal at the dining table, away from TV and computers is contributing to the poor diets of children and teenagers.

By the way, neither party involved in the cat fight mentioned above is an innovator with their ‘hidden food’ books. Apparently they are predated by another author, Jane Kinderlehrer who earlier wrote Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook: Or, How to Make Your Family Healthy When They're Not Looking!(1972).

Get real people and get to know your kids better.
Read more at The New York Times.


Cindy said...

I have far more admiration for the approach being taken over at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge. Mum puts the veges at centre stage, bringing home a huge variety and trying different recipes. It seems to have created more open and positive atmosphere at her dinner table. Three cheers for her incredible efforts!

stickyfingers said...

Me too Cindy! The glory of the vegetables is to be honoured.

This hidden food is in fact another form of processing food and eliminating nutritious value to make home cooking seem like junk food to appease kids who are allowed to behave like brats.

Lucy said...

Nothing wrong with learning to like your vegetables from a young age. It's all a matter of being led by example: parents cooking, eating and enjoying them, without causing a fuss. Behaving as if it's normal - 'cos it should be. Great Big Veg Challenge exemplifies that way of thinking.

Spinach in brownies? Can't even imagine what that would look like...

Anonymous said...

Good post Sticky.
I tend to take a hard line on kids being too picky with food & I hate the fact that in some homes meals have been splintered into several differnt dishes because someone dosn't 'do' this or that.
If its the only thing available & they're hungry they'll eat it beleive me! I had to walk away recently when a house guest fed their cherub in front of the box because 'thats the only time they'll eat'.
You're right, instead of this type of book, what about just setting these kids right from day one?

On the power of celebrity selling cookbooks. I completely take that poor womans side against the Leviathan of spinning Seinfelds.

Not many people know this but Stephanie Alexander pinched my idea for the Cooks Companion & printed it word for freaking word!
Now she's pinched my idea for a childrens garden!

grocer said...

excellent subject matter, and as you probably know, one of my favourites. The brat factor is important of course, as is the "make it interesting" factor.

I too love the great big veg challenge and I suppose in some ways my mother was good at that. we hated cooked beans and carrots, so instead of serving them, she would top and tail them and leave them (in a glass with a bit of water in the bottom) in the kitchen, on the chopping bench, on the table on nights that carrots & beans were on the "menu". I suspect we ate 3 times as much like this!!! So, both parties have to come to the table (hahahahaha) so to speak!

Other things were not negotiable (such as the accoutrement to corned beef) until we were much older.

But I think that if it comes to hiding vegetables in food, or sprinkling metamucil through something , I am going to go for the former.

If you do it well, there's no "hiding" but "incorporation.

Gobbler - I can't wait to meet you. I'm sorry if Stephanie took your idea, but there is so much more to do...

Finally, I caught the back end of modern parenting on aunty tonight and quite frankly, I found it frightening.

purple goddess said...

I've done it, and I have hated myself for it.

It's pure justification on my part, but I get my step kids once a fortnight. For 11 days outta 14 they eat shit. I mean, complete crap. I figure that for 2 main meals a fortnight, I have a duty to feed them something with a modicum of nutritional value.

Having said that, they also get vegies/fruit that AREN'T hidden, in salads and wraps and roasts. But the occasional grated zucchini/carrot/capsicum combo in meatloaf is a staple in our house.

stickyfingers said...

Spinach Brownies apparently hide all traces of Spinach because it is made with pureed greens.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with incorporating grated fresh vegies into food to give extra vitamins in addition to whole vegies.

The Seinfeld concept is to steam the vegies and puree them, then put them into Cheeseburgers and tacos and cooking them again - reducing their nutritional value - making the kids think they get junk food at every meal with no vegies.

I saw the Modern Parenting show last night too. It was an eye opener, especially the women who shuts her 3 year old up whilst she's on the phone, by handing her the sugar bowl and teaspoon, of which the child demolishes a third of it. SCARY!

Gobbler, next time you have a bright idea, I'll help you get it of the ground, before someone else snaffles it.

Anonymous said...

I'll take up your kindly offer one day Sticky! I hope your dear readers know that I am only joking about Dame Alexanders Companion!

stickyfingers said...

A very warm welcome and thank you to The New York Times Blog, City Room for to this post.

BTW Author Jane Kinderlehrer, mentioned in my post is also a regular contributor to The New York Times. I have updated the post with a link to her books.

stickyfingers said...

Having some issues with the code - what that was meant to read was "Thank you for LINKING to this post..."