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Similar stealthy approaches to vegetables in kids' food has authors feuding

By Devra First
Globe Staff / January 30, 2008

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The practice of tricking kids into eating healthy food by hiding broccoli puree in chicken nuggets or white beans in chocolate chip cookies has raised controversy. But not as much controversy as two recent cookbooks that advocate doing so, Missy Chase Lapine's "The Sneaky Chef" and Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious."

The two books came out within six months of each other: Lapine's was published by Perseus Books Group member Running Press in April last year, Seinfeld's by HarperCollins imprint Collins in October. In addition to their similar premise, they share similar subtitles and similar recipes based on fruit and vegetable purees.

Lapine's book is subtitled "Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals," Seinfeld's "Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food." Both offer recipes for French toast made with bread dipped in puree (Lapine calls for sweet potato and carrot, while Seinfeld suggests "banana or pineapple or sweet potato or carrot or butternut squash puree, or canned pumpkin"), macaroni and cheese that contains cauliflower puree, and chocolate pudding full of hidden avocado.

The cover of "The Sneaky Chef" features a drawing of a woman in a chef's hat, hiding a carrot behind her back. The cover of "Deceptively Delicious" features a drawing of a woman (presumably Seinfeld) holding a plate of brownies and winking; behind her on the counter are several carrots.

Both authors have also enjoyed success. They appeared on several major TV programs - Lapine, for example, on "The Today Show" and Seinfeld on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (after which the author reportedly sent Winfrey 21 pairs of shoes as a thank you) - and their books became bestsellers.

After the Oct. 8 "Oprah" appearance by Seinfeld - who is founder of the nonprofit organization Baby Buggy and wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld - the message boards at Oprah.com lit up with comments alleging plagiarism. Posts about the similarities were soon all over the Internet. On Oct. 19, The New York Times published a story on the matter, reporting that Lapine submitted her "Sneaky Chef" proposal, "complete with 42 recipes, to HarperCollins twice - once in February 2006 without an agent and again in May . . . the second time represented by an agent. Both times she was rejected. She landed a deal with Running Press in June 2006, the same month that Collins won an auction to publish Ms. Seinfeld's book."

On Oct. 29, Jerry Seinfeld riffed on the situation on "Late Show With David Letterman."

"This woman [Lapine] says, I sense this could be my wacko moment. She comes out and accuses my wife, 'You stole my mushed up carrots,' " he said. "It's vegetable plagiarism."

He continued, "We're sorry that she is angry and hysterical, and because she's a three-name woman, which is what concerns me. She has three names. And if you read history, many of the three-name people do become assassins. Mark David Chapman and James Earl Ray."

On Jan. 7, Lapine filed suit against Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld.

"Jessica Seinfeld's blatant plagiarism of Lapine's book constitutes copyright and trademark infringement under federal and New York law. Jerry Seinfeld's malicious, nationally-televised attack on Lapine constitutes slander under New York law," says the suit.

Neither Lapine nor Seinfeld would discuss the case.

Daniel Benson, a partner with Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, the firm representing Lapine, says, "She brought the case to vindicate her original expression and her good name."

Seinfeld lawyer Richard G. Menaker says, "I've had an opportunity to do some substantial investigation at this point, to talk to people involved and talk to others who are very very experienced in copyright and trademark law. The conclusion is uniform and comprehensive: There's no merit whatsoever. It was a mistaken lawsuit. It doesn't look like it was brought primarily to win in court. Its timing coincides with Miss Lapine's new book."

That book, "The Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat on Your Man (in the Kitchen)," is due out in March. It teaches readers how to hide healthy ingredients in manly dishes like chili.

Both Lapine and Seinfeld have said that their main concerns are getting people to eat better and bringing families together.

They're not alone. Author Chris Fisk says those are her goals as well. Her book, "Sneaky Veggies: How to Get Vegetables Under the Radar & Into Your Family," came out in August 2006.

"I was first, for God's sake!" she says, laughing. "My friends ask, 'How come you're not [ticked] off?' What can I do?

"When The New York Times did a huge article comparing the two books, I was like, 'Hello! Chef Chopped Liver reporting from wherever I've been banished to.' "

The cover of her book features a carrot hiding behind a pitcher.