Book Review: “The Little Book of Foodie Law”

By Eric Goldman

Cecil C. Kuhne, The Little Book of Foodie Law (Little Books) [Amazon affiliate link]

[Note: I checked out this book because someday I hope to offer a Food Law course, and I wanted to see if this book would be useful towards that endeavor. It wasn't. Its vignette format is not dissimilar to the blog posts we've done recounting a case's history (see, e.g., Sruli's posts on Sleekcraft and DC v. RR), except IMO our blog posts are WAY better than these vignettes.]

This is an odd book. The book contains a series of short vignettes–18 in all–illustrating different ways legal doctrines apply to food, including antitrust, trademark, FDA definitions, products liability, the Dormant Commerce Clause and more. Each vignette is then followed by a recipe using the food at issue in the vignette. There is also an odd fold-out timeline presenting the dates various foods were invented that has nothing to do with anything else in the book. The book indeed is “little,” running a svelte 125 numbered pages. Some vignettes are as short as two pages.

Although each vignette is nicely written, the book has no broad takeaway point and provides no coherent lessons. After presenting the facts of a particular litigation, the vignettes do not offer any analysis and do not discuss any implications. (This is the identical mistake my law students make when writing up case notes). Further, the vignettes follow no logical order; they randomly jump among highly disparate legal doctrines. Given its ad hoc and case-specific treatment of topics, I can’t see how practicing lawyers could use this book in their practices.

The recipes after each vignette are a fun idea, but this isn’t a cookbook, so I wonder if any readers have tried to follow the recipe (many of which I don’t think are a clear improvement over recipes easily found on the Internet). In some cases, the vignette would likely reduce the reader’s desire to eat, such as the vignettes on rotten caviar and geese abuse to manufacture foie gras. It would have been more interesting if the recipes actually had related to the vignette’s facts more closely. For example, in the vignette on the harsh restaurant review of the Mr. Chow restaurant, it would have been interesting to see the restaurant’s recipe so we could taste it ourselves. It also would have been interesting to see the “stolen” recipes from the Buffets case.

Similarly, the book contains some stock photos between chapters but doesn’t display any photos of any of the discussed items, any company logos or other source materials. This is especially painful when the book provides textual descriptions of the Mr. Peanuts’ logo and a rival’s logo. It should have been easy to find the logos in question, and showing them side-by-side would have been worth a thousand words.

My biggest frustration with the book is that it does nothing to help the reader understand how or why the legal regulation of food is any different than the regulation of any other good or service available in the marketplace. There are in fact reasons why we should subject food to special regulation, but this book does not move us any closer to understanding that key question. Otherwise, this book just as easily could have been written about any goods and services in the marketplace and it would look pretty similar.

As a result of the lack of a substantive payoff, I felt like this book was the textual equivalent of an “empty calories” snack. I enjoyed it well enough while consuming it, but afterwards I regretted my consumption choice.