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My Book Was Stolen to Teach AI. Was Yours?
Plus: we won an IACP award!!!!
Howdy cookbook fans!
Well, it’s been a big week here at SPN HQ because…. drum roll… Stained Page News won the 2023 IACP Award for best newsletter!!! It was actually a tie and the award is shared with; check out her newsletter too!
I submitted three pieces to the awards program:
Go read them! They are good in my opinion. And award-winning!
Okay let’s do cookbook news.
Today's issue of Stained Page News is brought to you by Hardie Grant North America and A New Way to Bake: Re-imagined Recipes for Plant-based Cakes, Bakes and Desserts (October 12, 2023) by Philip Koury, the award-winning pastry chef known for his innovative and delicious creations made from plants. With simple recipes using natural ingredients, Phil transforms classic patisserie into amazing plant-based creations.
Tech Giants Steal Cookbooks to Teach AI How Recipes Work
Last week, the Atlantic published a three-part-series about the Books3 dataset, a collection of nearly 200,000 books (I keep seeing different numbers everywhere) being used by a company called OpenAI to teach AI how to, well, write. The last of this series got the most buzz because you could search the books in the dataset. And it turns out a lot of authors found their work in there. I sure did!
AI is out here learning how to make breakfast tacos and smoke brisket, I guess. Anyway, I was upset that my work is being used without permission or payment—not to mention the fact that my book, The Austin Cookbook, features recipes from restaurants and chefs who are not being compensated, either. I searched for what to do—turns out the Authors Guild is suing, but it’s a class action suit only open to fiction writers. There are other lawsuits pending, of course, and hopefully those can address concerns of nonfiction writers. I started asking around—some folks have discussed the situation with their agents, some with their publishers. But mostly the response was a resounding “THIS SUCKS.”
So. I asked for some thoughts from a couple fellow cookbook authors on how this specifically impacts us, and what they had to say was pretty interesting. For me? It’s one thing for novels to be used to teach AI how writing works, and conversation, and plot development, and character arcs. The thing that burns me about this situation for cookbook authors is our work doesn’t just teach AI how to concept, structure, and write a cookbook in addition to the (typically) quite formal language of recipes, it also teaches foodways, dishes, culture, history. It’s the language and the content. I was joking above, but there is a world in which people will soon be able to ask an AI chat how to make a Mexican martini and get a recipe informed by my work.
Jamie Feldmar found the book she co-authored with New Orleans chef Justin Devillier (The New Orleans Kitchen) in the dataset. One of her concerns is that recipes are already so hard to protect: “I was pretty stunned to see it on there. One of the reasons it's so infuriating is because there are already so few protections for cookbook authors—you can't copyright a recipe, so your IP always feels like it's at risk (i.e. someone can add 1/2 tsp more salt to your signature dish and call it their own), in addition to, you know, your livelihood as a writer.” She adds that, for future projects, she plans on discussing with her agent and publisher what protections they may be able to install.
Carolyn Phillips found two of her books in the dataset, and notes that while the WGA just went on strike to protect their earnings against AI, cookbook authors have no similarly powerful labor organization to fight for their interests. A bigger philosophical question stands out for her, as well: “Who wants recipes written by something that thinks in zeros and ones, that has never tasted a strawberry or a glass of wine, that has no concept of food or eating? Are we as humans that far gone? If so, we might as well throw in the towel, move down into our basements with our freeze-dried crickets and Ensure, and wait for the Rise of the Machines to usher in Skynet.”
In doing so, she speaks to what I’ve been saying all this time: AI can’t taste, touch, or smell, which will always give the human recipe developers a leg up.
That is, of course, unless they are literally using our recipes.
Cookbook authors, give us your thoughts in the comments. You can search the Book3 set here.
The Creative Brief with Frances Abrantes Baca
I’m a sucker for complex, detailed, full-frame images of food. They vividly conjure pleasurable scents, textures, and colors, or the way an ingredient feels in the hand, surrenders to the fork, or bursts with flavor when we take a bite. Hunger—both literal and metaphorical—is stirred when gazing upon these images, and when they verge on abstraction, excitement and curiosity are piqued as well. In cookbooks, the appearance of full-frame, closely cropped art punctuates the act of recipe browsing with drama, surprise, and inspiration. And although we most commonly encounter them when flipping through a book’s interior, a close-up image of food on a cookbook’s cover is a rare delight.
I felt a jolt of happiness when I set eyes upon the cover of Susan Spungen’s Veg Forward, whose gorgeous, meaty tomatoes—glistening with olive oil, specks of black pepper, and bits of basil—recall the warmth and sensuality of deep summer. Spungen, an accomplished recipe developer and food stylist, shot the book’s photographs herself on an iPhone (an impressive feat for a beginner photographer). “When I shot that tomato tart, I did actually think that was the cover,” says Spungen. But Spungen didn’t expect designer Cybele Grandjean’s treatment of the shot—cropped in tightly and overlaid with big, bold sans-serif type. Gradjean’s design emphasizes the delicious, dramatic impact of the photograph—whose complementary greens and reds, accented with golden yellows, pop brightly off the cover. The crisp, playful typography conveys an attention-grabbing confidence, not to mention that the title reads beautifully at thumbnail size (which is important for online booksellers). This inspired visual dialog between photographer and designer results in a cover that is an unabashed celebration of the vegetables that take center stage in Spungen’s book.
The cover of Leslie Lennox’s Pesto is, likewise, lush and exuberant, but it achieves this effect through illustration. Anna Repp’s detailed, meticulously rendered drawings of herbs and leafy greens are silhouetted and combined by designer Morgan Krehbiel. The depth and complexity of the resulting full-frame image is striking. At first glance, it looks like a photograph, though closer inspection reveals densely interwoven pencil drawings of the various fresh ingredients in Lennox’s recipes. “The author makes a bold argument for why pesto should be considered a modern addition to the five traditional mother sauces of classical cooking, and so from the start I wanted the cover design to reflect and reinforce that boldness and confidence,” explains Krehbiel. Her design skillfully asserts Lennox’s point of view, made even more salient through the large, eye-catching type treatment. The rounded sans-serif typography complements the shapes of the herbs, whose leaves wrap around the letters and create a lively dimensionality—suggesting a pesto jungle, gently enveloping the book.
Though conceived and published completely separately, Veg Forward and Pesto make a handsome pair. They harness the arresting, maximal quality of their cover art to not only entice us, but also to accomplish the difficult task of capturing a broad, essential, and very memorable reflection of the recipes that await us within.
Coming Attractions: Fishwife! Rize Up! Wishbone Kitchen! GREENS! Laura Vitale! Melinda Strauss! Soviet Diaspora! The Pasta Queen! Joe Sasto! VEGAN CHEESE!!
Polina Chesnakova to write Emigre: Life and Cooking in the Societ Diaspora. The book will explore her family’s “cooking and identity in the post-Societ bloc”—they have ties to Ukraine, Russian, Armenia, and the Republic of Georgia—along with personal essays and recipes. Hardie Grant, pub date TBA.
The folks behind hipster tinned fish company Fishwife Tinned Seafood, Becca Millstein and Vilda Gonzalez, heard you like tinned fish and so will write The Fishwife Cookbook. 75 recipes for enjoying tinned fish! Harvest, winter 2025.
Azikiwee Anderson, founder of “San Francisco's only Black-owned artisanal sourdough bakery” Rize Up Bakery, to write Rize Up, a book that “aims to make sourdough baking as accessible as possible, especially for those people who haven't traditionally been represented in the space.” Recipes from the bakery included! Artisan, pub date TBA.
Nothing makes me feel older than encountering a WILDLY POPULAR food celebrity I…have never heard of. Perhaps you have, though? Meredith Hayden, aka @wishbonekitchen on Instagram (994k followers) and TikTok (2 million followers), will write The Wishbone Kitchen Cookbook, “pitched as a new generation Ina Garten.” Written with Rachel Holtzman. Here she is making tacos in an apartment with the most ridiculous view of Manhattan I’ve ever seen, with Ed Sheeran. Ten Speed, pub date TBA.
Blogger Omid Roustaei, aka blogger the Caspian Chef, to write Iranian-American, including “75 recipes that fuse Persian flavors and global cuisines.” Insight, pub date TBA.
Greens Restaurant in San Francisco has been a vegetarian institution since it opened in 1979, and its latest chef Katie Reicher will write The Season of Greens with over 130 recipes that celebrate “farmers, land, and the seasons.” Greens famously launched the cookbook career of founding chef Deborah Madison, so I have high hopes for this one! Weldon Owen, pub date TBA.
I was JUST emailing with a reader about how there aren’t enough English-language Peruvian cookbook, and here comes Taranta by Boston chef Jose Duarte and Alison Arnett. The restaurant of the same name is a Peruvian-Italian mashup, so perhaps we’ll see a bit of that influence as well. Histria, fall 2024.
Suzanne Lenzer to write Peckish, snack recipes “that move beyond boards and platters.” Rodale, pub date TBA.
YouTuber (3.8 million subscribers) and Cooking Channel host Laura Vitale to write At My Italian Table, about her childhood in Naples cookng with her nonna. Clarkson Potter, spring 2024.
Alana Kysar, Maui chef and author of 2019’s Aloha Kitchen, to write Veg Out Hawai’i Style. Hawaiian vegetable treatments! Into it. Ten Speed, pub date TBA.
TikToker Melinda Strauss (1 million followers) to write Eat Jewish, 125 “modern and traditional” Jewish comfort food recipes. Rock Point, spring 2025.
Grillo’s is a brand of pickles I have never heard of, but they will write Grillo’s Presents: Pickled so presumably they are good pickles! Abrams, Spring 2024.
TikToker Nadia Caterina Munno (3.1 million followers) to write her second cookbook, The Pasta Queen: The Art of Italian Cooking. Not just pasta! Gallery, fall 2024.
Top Cheffer Joe Sasto to write Breaking the Rules, with a focus on his specialty of pasta. Simon Element, pub date TBA.
And last but not least, Miyoko Schinner to write (or…expand and revise?) her 2012 classic Artisan Vegan Cheese, now to be called The Vegan Creamery. 80 recipes for “plant-based cheeses, yogurt, butter, ice cream desserts, and vegan main courses.” Ten Speed, pub date TBA.
Here’s a short-n-sweet podcast with Clark University professor Elizabeth Blake, in which she discusses her new book Edible Arrangements: Modernism's Queer Forms. The book looks at the writing of Alice B. Toklas as a representation of queer life. [ClarkNOW]
Every time Eater runs their “How I Got My Job” series, I say it in my head in the Tiktok “Can I pet that DOG!” voice. LOL. Anyway this time it’s recipe developer and food photographer Louiie Victa. [Eater]
Very curious about Paul Fehribach’s new book on Midwestern food. (Although I disagree that “nobody’s done a book about the Midwest where it addresses the Midwest as a serious regional cuisine.” Maybe I’ll do a round up soon.) [Book Club Chicago]
A cookbook shelf that’s “a mirror of Mennonite history.” [Anabaptist World]
Stained Page News Classifieds
More about Five Things I’ve Learned: Their new four-part series, Five Things I’ve Learned about How to Balance a Creative Life with a Family Life, seems perfect for almost everyone. Writer Steve Almond talks in upcoming weeks with and Julliana Baggot, Camille Dungy, and Cheryl Strayed. Things begin next week with poet Mathew Zapruder. Check out myfivethings.com. But first, subscribe to MyFiveThings on Substack and get $10 off a ticket to any individual upcoming or on-demand session.
Email me to run a classified ad in an upcoming issue!