Is there a major plagiarism problem when it comes to recipes? Many notable cookbook authors say yes. According to a report by Montreal Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman, recipe writers are frustrated with "continuously seeing their words and ideas lifted with little-to-nothing in the way of credit."
Pastry chef and author Nick Malgieri tells Chesterman that recipes are "being ripped off right, left, and centre," adding that the other day he picked up a cookbook by a famous author and found six of his recipes in there. Others have seen their recipes copied by bloggers, fellow cookbook authors, and even food magazines without credit. Some say that they have had their recipes "borrowed" by someone who gained a lot of money from doing so. One food blogger even apparently counted 96 recipes that were "credited but adapted" from another cookbook author on her very popular website.
The debate over recipe stealing is not a new one in the slightest. The Chicago Tribune ran an article covering the topic in 1984, and New York Times critic Pete Wells called it out again nearly a decade ago when he wrote about the "new era of the recipe burglar." Chefs have also been arguing over what constitutes culinary plagiarism for many years. Wylie Dufresne told Eater in 2012 that it used to bother him when he "notice[d] someone copying and then being praised as having innovated." David Chang tweeted out something similar, writing, "Wylie, René, Heston, Ferran, and Andoni give proper credit to other chefs, why can't the rest of us? We lose [the] ability to keep the past alive."
So what can recipe creators do? Cookbook author Paula Wolfert became so frustrated with the situation that she went so far as to sue people, including those behind a charity cookbook that published seven of her recipes uncredited and without permission. While Wolfert tells Chesterman that you can't "own a recipe" or the ingredient list, a cook does own "the language of a recipe, the written text." She says going the legal route worked: The number of her recipes that are stolen has dropped significantly. There are other serious consequences to recipe stealing: Former Food Network host Anne Thornton's show was not renewed in 2012 because she was caught copying recipes from the the likes of Martha Stewart and Ina Garten.