Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook (1970) and Simple French Food (1974) profoundly shaped American food trends in the 20th century—mostly behind the scenes. They inspired Alice Waters as she launched Chez Panisse, igniting a fresh California cuisine revolution. She, James Beard and Julia Child would all make regular pilgrimages to Olney’s hermitage dwelling in Provence to dine with this genius of the palate.

Success spawns copycats. The culprit here is Richard Nelson’s American Cooking (1983). It is filled with recipes copied verbatim from Simple French Food (and other cookbooks). When food journalists uncovered Nelson’s pilfering, a plagiarism firestorm ensued. But did his blatant recipe copying violate U.S. copyright laws? The answer is nuanced.

Careless recipe gathering derailed Nelson’s once promising career. This post examines the merits of a copyright lawsuit Olney filed to protect his professional reputation.


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Pecans are a microcosm of Americana.  As the Stuart Pecan Company would brag in 1893: ‘We [Americans] have rightfully a monopoly upon the nut.’”[1] Wild pecan trees proliferate in riverine ecosystems coursing through the southern United States.  Their domesticated, often patented counterparts now satisfy huge consumer demand for these indigenous nuts, once vital to tribal commerce.  Indeed, the name pecan is derived “from an Algonquin word meaning, loosely translated, ‘a nut too hard to crack by hand.’” Closer scrutiny of my favorite bourbon pecan pie recipe offers some unusual insights into the importance of plant patents, what copyright originality means as applied to classic recipes, and into chef brands tarnished by the #MeToo social movement.  This post cracks open these peculiarly American socio-legal issues.
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