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.


Continue Reading

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).
Continue Reading

blog picWhen a food synthesizer first appeared on Star Trek: The Original Series, I looked upon it with awe and wonder. Its workings were never explained; but entire meals would emerge from it magically. Swanson’s frozen TV dinners were its only analogue in my childhood experience—aluminum trays compartmentalized in vaguely Bento box proportions with a daily ration of meat, a starch, some vegetables, and possibly dessert. The food synthesizer did seem to be 23rd century stuff.[1]

In a matter of 50 years, advances in the sustainable food arts are making food duplication a 21st century reality. Deconstruction of foodstuffs is now happening at the particle level in research laboratories around the world. Food replication—through 3D printing devices and like technology—promises to create even more vexing social and legal issues of food identity and authenticity.

The holy grail of this quest is a veggie burger—one with an appealing look, taste and mouth feel that will attract and retain both vegetarian and omnivore consumers. Contorting vegetable matter into tasting, sizzling and bleeding like red meat, however, poses innumerable challenges, with concomitant patenting opportunities.

This article briefly traces the patenting history of this quest and outlines where it is currently headed. Food replication is part of our cultural DNA; the journey itself is exciting.


Continue Reading

blog potatoesWearing a McDonald’s blue garrison-style hat—red hats signified management—I often worked at the french fry station during my pimply high school years in the 1970s.  If you had asked me anything about the julienned potatoes I watched bubbling around in hot oil, I would have given you a clipped, teenage response, “I dunno.”  I had more important things on my mind, like my girlfriend Lynn who worked at the local Dairy Queen.

Forty years later, I know precisely what I would salt, scoop and funnel into paper containers in seemingly never-ending quantities: the historic Russet Burbank potato.  Luther Burbank—the (once) famous “Wizard of Horticulture”—developed this potato variety in 1870.  It would become the mainstay of the McDonald’s franchise empire, with over billions and billions sold.

Like other formerly indistinguishable fruit and vegetable commodities, potatoes are now morphing into a plethora of trademarked, patentable varieties.  The most recent variety to make news headlines is the Innate™ potato, a genetically modified Russet Burbank potato owned by the J.R. Simplot Company.  You won’t find them at McDonald’s anytime soon though.  “McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices.”[1]

This brief article focuses on the history of potatoes and their patentable status in the United States.  As part of this discussion, the poor market reception potatoes first received during the Columbian Exchange is compared to the predictable consumer angst associated with the Innate™ potato’s genetic engineering.
Continue Reading

blog post first pictureWhen Meriwether Lewis tasted his first roasted morsel of a fresh Chinook salmon at a Shoshone camp along the Lemhi River (in modern day Idaho), he ate it with “very good relish.”  It convinced him that “we were on the waters of the Pacific Ocean.”

For centuries, native tribes and later settlers in the Pacific Northwest have revered the Chinook (or King) salmon as an iconic symbol of life and regeneration.  Celilo Falls, along the Columbia River bordering Washington and Oregon, was once the greatest salmon fishing site in North America, and perhaps the world.

Some 200 years later, the Atlantic and Pacific salmon fisheries have merged in the form of the first transgenic salmon.  An AquAdvantage® salmon[1] is what you create when you take an Atlantic salmon and insert a Chinook salmon growth hormone gene and an ocean pout fish regulatory gene sequence into it through the use of recombinant DNA technology.  An AquAdvantage salmon can grow to market size in land-based tank farms in half the time of conventional salmon.  It is never, ever supposed to swim in either ocean.

Whether or not the AquAdvantage salmon achieves final regulatory approval and market acceptance, its current fate squarely pits the much vaunted concept of sustainability against the other two most heralded words in the modern food vocabulary, natural and organic.

This article provides a brief survey of how the FDA evaluates the food safety of transgenic animals as “new animal drugs.”  It then discusses an alternative, more rigorous means of assessing genetically altered animals as “food additives,” the analytical approach favored by Food & Water Watch in a recently filed FDA citizen’s petition.  It closes with an animal scientist’s perspective regarding the sustainability of transgenic animals as food sources.
Continue Reading

Designed to appeal and speak to the customers of a specific time and place, trademarks can become hallmarks of a bygone era.

The controversy surrounding the use of the REDSKINS trademark and logo shows just how much the public reaction to symbols can alter and shift over time.  In a decision now on appeal, the United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled the REDSKINS trademark registrations, ruling that they were considered disparaging and offensive to approximately one out of three native Americans when they were registered.

Stepping back from this present day dispute, pioneer and native American symbology once captured the popular imagination in the early 20th century.  Businesses sought to capitalize on romantic visions of western expansion by adopting symbols recalling the Old West.  Once those nostalgic reference points lost commercial traction with consumers, these companies changed shopworn symbols of brand identity or perhaps the companies and products faded away altogether from the marketplace.

How many of us can now connect the following former trademark symbols referencing the Old West with their original producer and the products they were meant to brand? This brief reprise underscores how dynamic trademark symbols are in adjusting to the tastes and sensibilities of each new generation of American consumers.  Answers follow at the end.

1.

2.


Continue Reading

For centuries, we’ve ingested magic elixirs in pill and syrupy forms to cure whatever ails us and to ward off future illness.  Hard scientific evidence of efficacy may have been lacking for these nostrums, but lingering doubts fell sway to the testimonial charms and hard-sell tactics of proverbial snake oil salesmen.  Once operating door-to-door, these

With an era of 3D printable food dawning,[1] the Star Trek “food replicator” is beginning to look more like modern reality instead of the stuff of science fiction.  Every day and in every way, food scientists and flavor technologists are figuring out ways to deconstruct and reassemble our favorite dishes out of whole cloth.

This is not a new trend.  The desire to mimic basic foodstuffs began in earnest in the 19th century.  French scientists invented margarine as a cheap substitute for butter to better feed Napoleon’s standing armies.  Soon after margarine’s introduction into the U.S. consumer marketplace, palming it off as butter became rampant.[2]

The increasing ability to manufacture and promote “faux” foods that compare or contrast in some manner to their natural counterparts spawns a host of intriguing and perplexing legal issues.  This article focuses on just one of those issues: a “faux” food producer’s “standing” to pursue a Lanham Act false advertising claim against a producer of comparable “real” food.

Faux Gras v. Foie Gras

A case pending in California federal court offers a stunning example of what happens when a “fake” food producer targets a real food counterpart by simply adopting a similarly sounding name (or playful variant thereof) and selling a food intended to mimic or substitute for that of its would-be competitor.  Voilà, the ersatz food producer instantly manufactures standing sufficient to satisfy the “competitor” requirement of a Lanham Act false advertising claim pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(B).

The case is Regal Vegan v. HVFG (d/b/a Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Case No. 3:12-cv-05809 (N.D. Cal.)  Plaintiff Regal Vegan sells “Faux Gras,” a “toasted walnut lentil pâté.”  The defendant Hudson Valley produces and sells both fresh foie gras (duck liver) and a foie gras mousse (a pâté form).  Regal Vegan claims that Hudson Valley falsely advertises its foie gras as “the humane choice” for such products.  Regal Vegan asserts that foie gras production involves force-feeding of ducks to enlarge their livers—and that this “gavage” technique cannot possibly be labeled or categorized as humane under any circumstances.  Hudson Valley’s website notes that its ducks used for foie gras production are “Cage Free.”

Foie gras is considered a delicacy, especially in French culture.  The “gavage” fattening technique of waterfowl can itself be traced back to ancient Egyptian culture.[3]  Hudson Valley’s foie gras products are depicted on its website as follows:[4]
Continue Reading

Co-Authored by June K. Campbell and Paul D. Swanson

“There’s a Chinese restaurant on every block, and if you think mouths won’t water when you come strolling by, then you don’t know squat about Oriental cuisine.  They prize the taste of dog, friend.  The chefs round up strays and slaughter them in the alley right behind the kitchen—ten, twenty, thirty dogs a week.  They might pass them off as ducks and pigs on the menu, but the in-crowd knows what’s what, the gourmets aren’t fooled for a second.” — Willy G. Christmas talking to Mr. Bones, his dog, from the novel Timbuktu, by Paul Auster

Europe is abuzz with the horsemeat scandal.  After the Food Safety Authority of Ireland first discovered that a range of frozen beef products contained a large percentage of horse DNA, the story struck a viral nerve and spread like wildfire.

For consumers at the convoluted end of frozen food supply chains, the idea that you have been eating “Bessie” the horse probably comes as an emotional shock to the system.  It is yet another nagging reminder of how distant we are from our original sources of food and how easy it is to be fooled by food appearances and masked tastes.[1]

For the companies whose grocery store or packaged food brands are entangled in the horsemeat scandal, the damage to reputational interests can be profound.  Affected companies took public relations repair action first and terminated supply chain contracts in a peremptory fashion.  IKEA stopped serving its famous Swedish meatballs.  Burger King changed to a different supplier of burgers.  Tesco, a major European supermarket chain, dropped a major vendor after discovering its frozen spaghetti bolognese contained over 60% horsemeat.
Continue Reading

Some of America’s best organic and sustainable food research is being conducted by the faculty, students and staff of Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

As Washington’s original and largest land grant university, WSU is fulfilling its mission and mandate “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture . . . .”  7 U.S.C. § 304.

A clear case in point is Professor Charles Benbrook’s detailed analysis and critique of a recent Stanford study of organic versus conventional food consumption.  The Stanford study—entitled Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review[1]appeared in a September 2012 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine and immediately spawned eye-catching headlines in major newspapers, such as the New York Times, proclaiming that Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.[2] 

The Stanford study came to two major conclusions:
Continue Reading