Lately I’ve been thinking about plagiarism.
The topic made big news recently in the Canadian media when our once pre-eminent national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, had an epic plagiarism scandal.
A regular Globe and Mail columnist was said to have “borrowed” copy directly from a blog.
The newspaper’s silence was followed by botched, half-hearted, insincere, patronizing explanations, and a lack of transparency about disciplinary measures taken. The columnist wrote a column in her own defence and the public commentary that followed was brilliant. The story was widely reported throughout Canadian print media and blogged about extensively. If you want to read more – here’s a link with an excellent summary of the story: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/25/margaret-wente-plagiarism_n_1912732.html
Incredibly, the same newspaper has recently introduced a “paywall” – that is a fee to view certain newspaper articles. Their timing could not have been worse. The defence is that we need to pay for good journalism. I agree but when the paid journalists are plagiarizing the work of bloggers – it kind of defeats the paywall. Blogs are free. A labour of love. So far as I know, most bloggers are not plagiarizing journalists. As a freelancer – I find it especially galling to think that salaried journalists are plagiarizing the works of underpaid and unpaid writers.
Since I also work in a university, I hear a lot about plagiarism and the steps taken to prevent it. Let’s be clear – plagiarism is not restricted to students. A dean at a Canadian university gave a brilliant and moving but almost entirely plagiarized speech at a convocation ceremony not too long ago. Sophisticated plagiarism tracking software is one of many new tools being used by some lofty academic journals. Plagiarism, it seems, is a widespread problem.
It got me thinking about recipes – and what defines a new recipe – since surely almost every conceivable combination of ingredients has appeared in a recipe somewhere, at some time.
Take for example pumpkin scones. I’ve been on a pumpkin kick of late. I thought I’d make some scones and rather than hunt through my own recipe file, I googled pumpkin scones. I came up with 3,750,000 hits – and the first thing to appear in my search was a Starbuck’s pumpkin scone-clone recipe. A stack of similar recipes followed. I can’t decide if this is a form of plagiarism or not. I think it comes down to correct attribution.
When I published my cookbook – A Taste of Wintergreen – I did some research about what constitutes an original recipe. One of the best resources I found about recipe attribution was an article by David Lebovitz at http://foodblogalliance.com/a/recipe-attribution/.
Essentially if you change three or more ingredients in a recipe and rewrite the methodology – you can call the recipe your own. My own rule about this is that changes must be substantive – not adjusting measurements or adding or subtracting spices! If in doubt – you should indicate where the inspiration came from. Citing sources is the best and safest way to avoid anything vaguely smacking of plagiarism.
This is my own vegan version of the many Starbuck’s pumpkin scone-clone recipes. I can assure you it has been substantively changed from the recipes I looked at. And I can’t even tell you which recipe inspired me – since there are millions of them – all more or less the same!
Enough – whether you’re vegan or not – make a batch of these scones. There was no plagiarism involved and no animal products used. So they’re politically and ethically correct, healthy, and as it happens they’re irresistibly tasty too.
Vegan Pumpkin Scones
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup cold vegan margarine (I used Becel Vegan – you could easily substitute butter for a non-vegan version)
1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin
1/3 cup almond milk (or cream for a non-vegan version)
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp almond milk
pinch of ground cinnamon and ginger
Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.
Cut in the margarine until reasonably well blended. Mixture should be slightly crumbly.
In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin, almond milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and form dough into a ball. If you need to add more liquid add almond milk by the tablespoonful until you have a slightly wet, but not sopping wet, dough.
Pat out on a lightly floured board, folding the dough over itself two or three times. Shape into a circle about 3/4 inch thick and cut into eighths. Place on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake for about 14 minutes or until the scones are browned. Cool on a wire rack.
Combine glaze ingredients and use a whisk or a fork to drizzle over the scones. Allow to set before serving.