Defying a family trend around our dining table, I refused to call oleomargarine by its shorthand substitute, butter, in my early teens. I abhorred its fake butter taste on toast or corn-on-the-cob. Chastised as a finicky eater, I became a butter purity activist in my tiny domain of one.

Food names matter, neuro-psychologically. As

Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure and sensual self-indulgence. When applied to food, we conjure up high-priced luxuries like the Italian white Alba truffle—the “Mozart of mushrooms”—or the French black Périgord truffle—the “black magic apple of love.”

Hedonic food consumption is vivid—hence memorable. As we chew and swallow fine foodstuffs, we express satisfaction in facial expressions and vocal utterances. When hosts of the Food Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate reminisce about glorious meals, their enthusiasm quaffs over into wide-eyed grins, “oohs and ahhs,” and the licking of lips.

Eating and drinking well creates neuronal memory traces. Put more artfully by the poet/novelist Jim Harrison, “goose bumps come with the divine conjunction of food and wine.”[1]  Where triggered by food nostalgia, copyrightable expression flies off the page and screen. This post examines how dining on truffles can transport you in the writer’s imagination.


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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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Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful composition of matter may potentially obtain a United States patent. When it comes to food compositions, however, this seemingly broad scope of patentability is judicially tempered.

Novel foods are not patentable unless they demonstrate a “coaction or cooperative relationship between the selected ingredients which produces a new, unexpected and useful function.” In reality, patent applicants find it difficult to satisfy this scientific-sounding rule.

Even if an inventor could hurdle this patenting bar, who would want to eat food whose ingredients coact or cooperate unexpectedly?  Food neophobia—a reluctance to ingest novel foods—is characteristic of omnivores, including humans.[1] To ward against automatic rejection of novel food tastes or flavors, successful patentees must marshal abundant marketing prowess.

This post examines why the patent court formulated this food composition rule, how it is being employed by patent examiners and judges, and how savvy brand managers design subliminal retail strategies to counter innate consumer fear of ingesting novel foods.  Patentable vegan burgers illustrate how this marketing process works in action.


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Truffles mushrooms reside in a Holy Grail land of taste preference. They call to mind ancient French banquet meals and rural truffle hunters and their dogs. Scarce and expensive, the truffle industry satisfies market demand by bottling their musky scent in so-called truffle oils.

The Pacific Northwest is an unsung truffle backwater—when compared to the famous truffle growing regions of Périgord, France and Alba, Italy. Most residents never see, smell nor taste our region’s outstanding earthy delicacy, the Oregon black truffle. Lately though, I’ve binged on them, developing a classic neuropsychological food craving.

Why are truffles such high-end luxury goods and how do they induce food cravings? This post confronts these basic questions. Along the way, it offers some practical advice for home cooks preparing truffles for the first time.


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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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White Alba truffles from the Piedmont region of Italy—and black winter truffles from Périgord, France—are a fount of gastronomic legends. A black truffle and foie gras soup, served with a puff pastry topping, is the signature recipe of the late, great French chef, Paul Bocuse.  My first indelible taste of a White Alba truffle came shaved atop a Carnaroli Risotto Biologico with a Castelmagno Mousse, served at Per Se, Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant in Manhattan—at $175 per plate (in 2011).
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Orange blogOranges possess a special cachet in the American dream.  Growing up in the baby-boomer era meant that you heard—“breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine”—thousands of times while watching rerun episodes of Leave it to Beaver and The Flintstones.

As my breakfast chore, I would dutifully mix three cans of tap water with one can of “fresh” frozen concentrated orange juice.  Voilà, we had our morning OJ, just like Anita Bryant’s cheery TV family.  Little did I know that the 3-to-1 formula was patented—to quench a mass-produced taste for sweet orange flavor.

As a youngster, I was also oblivious to the barrage of cognitive priming—in the form of TV ads, radio jingles, point-of-purchase placards, etc.—that would stimulate my desire to eat oranges and drink their juice to this day.  Memory traces of orange flavor are encoded in my brain.

How does the flavor of an orange leave its memories lodged somewhere in the hippocampus[1] region of the brain for later retrieval?  Behind the scenes, intellectual property rights have long shaped—and marketers have long exploited—our innate, neuropsychological demand for foodstuffs.
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blog tomato 1Diana Kennedy, an intrepid chronicler of Mexican cuisine, describes cuatomates as “very small cherry tomatoes with an intense flavor and enormous amount of tiny seeds.”  A potently flavored, tiny green tomatillo variety “grows wild in [Mexican] cornfields.”[1]

Wild, obscure tomatoes—ones you’ve never seen nor tasted—represent the tomato’s intellectual property asset future, in the form

zucchini blogWith Halloween over and Thanksgiving looming, recipes for butternut squash soup abound while caved-in pumpkin faces rot away in back alleys.  For all their exotic shapes and colors, winter squashes remain tethered to autumnal demand.

Zucchinis are another story, escaping summertime seasonality.  Obscure even thirty years ago in American households, this squash and its variants are now year-round staple items in fresh produce aisles.

How a fruit masquerading as a vegetable broke free of distinct seasonality is a tale of international migration, generations of cultivation and varietal manipulation, and tasty recipes.

Squash patent applications offer a glimpse into the ongoing quest of agribusinesses to create intangible intellectual property assets—varietal patents and memorable trademarks—out of fresh fruit and vegetable produce.  This post analyzes an illustrative squash patent and the typical patenting issues encountered during the USPTO examination process.

Since food talk makes one hungry, we close with a zucchini recipe from perhaps the most inspiring cookbook of the 20th century, Simple French Food (1974) by Richard Olney.
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