Cookie War

Helen Woganowski is mad as hell and she’s not going to bake it anymore.

This poster went up recently on hoardings near me:

At first I thought Helen might have been done for nicking a bag of cookies and was making a sort of Twinkie-cum-necessity defence. But no. Turns out the allegation is that she’s the aggrieved because, in her opinion, Mississauga-based Allan Candy has used her recipe for its Desert Bites. I gathered this from the blog, Justice for Helen, set up to make her plaint.

Trouble is — well, troubles are —

  • she doesn’t explain how she knows Allan’s used her recipe (except to say her confections and theirs taste the same);
  • she doesn’t explain how they might have come by her recipe (reverse engineering of something she’d offered up at a bake sale? copying it from a cookbook she’d published?);
  • she doesn’t say what she wants from Allan’s — just that everyone should write them and support her; and
  • there’s no copyright (or patent) possible in a cooking recipe per se (just as an idea, even a complicated or novel one, can’t be copyrighted);

The lack of an IP right doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a real grievance, only that it might be a wrong without a remedy, the sort of thing that Lord Denning would fix, much to the annoyance of those above him on the bench. And she’s not alone in complaining that her culinary creation has been stolen: as we’ve become more and more food conscious and as the number of people who sell us food or the idea of food has grown, conflicts among makers and mongers have increased. It’s clear that within the food professions it’s considered unethical to reproduce another’s recipe without acknowledgement or without adding a twist to make it your own.

But “food fights” now involve more than just recipes and, as Helen’s call for “justice” attempts to do, they rope law into the skirmishes. If you’re curious, you can get a sense of what’s on the menu from an article written by Austin Broussard, “An Intellectual Property Food Fight: Why Copyright Law Should Embrace Culinary Innovation” [Vanderbilt J. of Entertainment and Tech. Law, Vol. 10:3:691], as the author makes the case for the inclusion of some confections within the ambit of copyright law.


  1. An update from an anonymous commenter (who didn’t use a real email address — hence failing the moderation test): This all might well have been a marketing ploy by Allan. Their response on YouTube rings wrong: