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"king cake"

Elsewhere around the world Ferrero Group, the Italian candy company, sells (with a suitable warning label) a treat called Kinder Surprise which consists of chocolate surrounding a small toy. However, the product is said to be illegal for sale in the United States: according to Donald Mays of Consumer Reports, “a nonfood item cannot be imbedded in a food product” under a law dating back to the 1930s. (“Choking-Hazard Easter Eggs Appear On Store Shelves”, WNBC, Apr. 5). If accurate, this would help explain something we’ve noted a couple of times in earlier posts (Feb. 1, 2002, Jan. 18, 2007), namely that store-bought Mardi Gras King Cakes do not have the little figurine baked into their batter that is found in the more authentic New Orleans versions.

In its traditional presentation, the celebrated Mardi-Gras-season New Orleans King Cake contains a small concealed figurine of a baby which someone gets as part of their slice; the lucky recipient then has to throw the next party or buy the next cake. Back in Feb. 2002 we ran an item, quoting columnist James Lileks, on how purveyors of some store-bought King Cakes no longer were willing to conceal such a figurine, tradition or no. For a discussion of King Cakes, including a picture of what one looks like, check Blawg Review #90, just published the other week at Minor Wisdom.

Now the New York Times introduces us to what is apparently the original French version of the cake, a flat round galette, also served during Carnival and also concealing a good-luck figurine. Don’t expect to encounter this delicacy in American stores, however, for reasons readers of this site will easily anticipate:

Alexandre Colas recalled that he once met a baker from Syracuse, N.Y., at a trade show in Paris, who at first showed interest in buying porcelain favors for his baked goods but later backed off. “He said there were too many legal issues,” he said.

(John Taglibue, “3 Lands of Orient Compete With French Holiday Favors”, New York Times, Jan. 17).


Food roundup

by Walter Olson on January 23, 2015

  • “It is one of the first times that two big craft brewers have been in a lawsuit against each other.” [San Francisco Chronicle]
  • Hee hee: poll finds more than 80 percent of public favors “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” cf. comparable polls on GMO labeling [Ilya Somin]
  • Chicago crackdown on paid private dinner parties comes after Michelin awards two stars to local restaurant that started that way [Illinois Policy]
  • “Is Foodborne Illness on the Rise?” [Baylen Linnekin]
  • “The Queens’ Tea in Salt Lake City sued by another queen over name” [Salt Lake Tribune]
  • Virginia legislator’s bill would end inspection of home kitchens used to produce food for direct sale [Watchdog, earlier on "cottage food" laws, related E.N. Brown]
  • “There’s a very simple reason you don’t find favors in king cakes anymore: We have too many lawyers in America” [WSJ, earlier]


Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 19, 2013

  • If you thought “finger in chili” was bad, meet the Utah couple arrested on charges of planting razor blade shards in doughnuts and swallowing some [KSL, Daily Mail]
  • My talk a few weeks ago as part of Cato Institute panel on nanny state [YouTube, Bruce Majors]
  • New Reason-RUPE public opinion survey finds public broadly opposed to food and drink bans [Sullum]
  • Feds’ bad advice on polyunsaturated fat: more damaging than any mass tort in sight? [David Oliver] More: Hans Bader.
  • Coroner blames woman’s death on Coca-Cola addiction [TV NZ] Monster Beverage: natural causes, not caffeine toxicity, killed Maryland teen [Reuters, NYT, earlier] More: Jacob Sullum.
  • Oh, CSPI, thou contradictest thyself [Baylen Linnekin; more from him on parents' and kids' food choices quoting me, NYC soda ban]
  • “Bloomberg limits seder portions” [Purim spoof, New York Jewish Week]
  • Kelly Brownell, guru of obesity-reduction-through-coercion formerly based at Yale, named dean of public policy school at Duke;
  • “A Knife, a Walmart Birthday Cake and a Frenzy of Overreaction” [Free-Range Kids] Mardi Gras perennial: can you buy king cake with baby figurine already in it? [same, earlier]
  • Now they tell us: NYT book review not conspicuously enthusiastic about Michael Moss anti-food-biz book hyped to the rafters in NYT magazine three weeks earlier [Ira Stoll, SmarterTimes, our take]


Among ways to add to the festive atmosphere: sign-in and sign-out sheets, monitors hired to look out for slip-inducing bead spills, and rules against letting supervisors or employees pour drinks. [Melissa Landry, The Hay Ride] Earlier on Mardi Gras liability here (tossed coconuts), here (floats), here (King cake figurine), and here (flasher’s-remorse cases.

The New York Times has more on the customs surrounding the traditional French galette des rois baked with little figurines inside, though it does not get into the possible legal or regulatory angles that might prohibit placing such items in interstate commerce. In this case they’re prepared by a licensed home baker in Larchmont, N.Y. For the cases of New Orleans king cake, Christmas puddings, Kinder Surprise candy, etc., see earlier posts.

P.S. For more on Epiphany traditions of “Twelfth Cake,” see Christine Lalumia/BBC, David Zincavage, and KatInTheCupboard/Flickr (1937 children’s book).

The High Timber restaurant in London is seeking to protect hollyrightitself because it follows the traditional practice of including the occasional coin or silver charm for lucky diners to happen upon. [Zincavage] Similarly in this 2005 dispatch (supermarket pudding); for the parallel custom of baking figurines into New Orleans king cake, see these posts.


No need to worry that greeters will be foisting cookies on returning soldiers at Bangor International Airport any more: “airport officials asked the greeters to stop serving food last month because of concern about liability and food safety. ‘We just say, “We’re sorry, we can’t give out any cookies,”‘ said Bill Knight, a World War II veteran who founded the group.” (Katie Zezima, “Airport Tries to Rein In Greeters’ Generosity Toward Troops”, New York Times, Jun. 21). Other food menaces averted: Dec. 13, 1999 (homemade pies), Jan. 29, 2001 (school cookies, country fair pies and jams), Feb. 1-3, 2002, Jan. 18 and Apr. 28, 2007 (figurines in New Orleans king cake), Apr. 15, 2004 (potluck dinners), Jul. 18, 2006 (homemade baked goods in U.K. nursing home), and Apr. 28, 2007 (candy-wrapped toy).


In Great Britain, a nursing home spokeswoman explains why visitors are allowed to bring in cakes and other baked goods only when they’re store-bought, not homemade. (Nanny Knows Best (U.K.), Jun. 14)(via Nobody’s Business). Other food menaces averted: Dec. 13, 1999 (homemade pies), Jan. 29, 2001 (cookies), Feb. 1-3, 2002 (figurines in New Orleans king cake), Apr. 15, 2004 (potluck dinners).

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UK roundup

by Walter Olson on November 19, 2005

Sainsbury’s, the British grocery chain, says it will have to go back on a plan to sell Christmas puddings with “lucky sixpences” inside because of health and safety regs under which they are regarded as a choking hazard; instead it will attach the coins to “collectors’ cards” and suggest that customers place them under the plate or placemat of a lucky family member. “[G]ood luck charms have been added to Christmas puddings for more than 500 years.” (David Derbyshire, “Unlucky sixpences miss out on Christmas”, Daily Telegraph, Oct. 18). For an analogous U.S. story involving the New Orleans specialty, “king cake”, see Feb. 1-3, 2002. The police force in Derbyshire, England, has tested its dogs to see whether their barking is in compliance with the Control of Noise at Work Regulations being introduced next April; the canines’ level of noisiness barely passed muster under the new standard, and modifications such as earplugs for police may needed when use of the dogs in anti-crime work combines with another source of noise such as that of a crowd. (Nick Britten, “Police take the lead on barking regulations”, Daily Telegraph, Oct. 27). For more on British and EU noise regulations, see Nov. 10, 2005 (kids’ playing); Sept. 2, 2005 (Army tanks); Jan. 12, 2004 (orchestras); Mar. 8-10, 2002 (bagpipes); Dec. 22-25, 2000 (military brass bands and gunfire during infantry training). In Worcester, England, teenager Natasha Hughes, who is accused of grievous bodily harm directed at another woman and was charged with violating her bail conditions, will not have to wear an electronic monitoring anklet after she successfully argued that the device violated her fashion sense and looked bad with skirts. (Nick Britten, “You can’t tag me. . . I like to wear skirts”, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 11). For a similar argument made in this country, see Dec. 4, 2000 (exotic dancer). And the following exchange was heard on the floor of the House of Lords this Wednesday:

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware of the case that I read about recently in which there were three main suspects for a crime: a rich lawyer, a poor lawyer and a tooth fairy? Needless to say, the rich lawyer was arrested because the other two were figments of the imagination.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it does the House no credit to do anti-lawyer jokes.

(Hansard, Nov. 16). Reader Bob Clarke, of Birmingham, U.K. who called this exchange to our attention, writes: “I don’t think that my learned Lord should drop his day job and start being a stand-up comedian. He made the same joke in 2000“.

Archived entries before July 2003 can also be found here (food) and here (beverages).

Food, 2003:Give me my million“, Jun. 20-22; “Lawsuit’s demand: stop selling Oreos to kids“, May 13 (& update May 16-18: suit dropped); “Fast-food opinion roundup“, Mar. 25-30; “They’ll be back for seconds“, Feb. 19; “Claim: marriage impaired by tough bagel“, Feb. 3; “Judge tosses McDonald’s obesity case“, Jan. 23 (& Jan. 27-28); “U.K.: coercive campaign to constrain Cadbury“, Jan. 20; “Anti-diet activist hopes to sue Weight Watchers“, Jan. 13-14.

2002:California’s hazardous holiday” (acrylamide), Dec. 27-29; “Scourge of the Super-Size order“, Nov. 7; “WHO demands pretzel de-salting by law“, Nov. 1-3; Letter to the editor, Oct. 23; “Personal responsibility roundup“, Sept. 12;  “Fat suits, cont’d“, Jul. 26-28; “‘Ailing man sues fast-food firms’“, Jul. 25; “Sin-suit city“, Jun. 10; “McArdle on food as next-tobacco“, May 27 (& Jun. 3-4); “Nader credibility watch” (calls fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”), May 24-26; “The mystery of the transgenic corn“, May 14-15; “‘Targeting “big food”‘“, Apr. 29-30; “‘Woman sues snack food company for spoiling diet’“, Apr. 23-24; “No more restaurant doggie bags“, Mar. 20-21; “Fast-food roundup“, Mar. 11; “King Cake figurine menace averted“, Feb. 1-3; “McMouse story looking dubious“, Jan. 25-27; “Life imitates parody: ‘Whose Fault Is Fat?‘”, Jan. 23-24.  “‘Hot-dog choking prompts lawsuit’“, Jan. 2-3.

2001:There’ll always be a California” (chocolate and Prop 65), Dec. 4; Letter to the editor (Wisc. exempts lutefisk from toxic-substance status), Nov. 29; “Disposable turkey pan litigation“, Nov. 23-25; “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’” (candy bars too), Nov. 18; “‘Baskin-Robbins lawsuit puts family in dis-flavor’“, Aug. 2; “‘Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart’“, July 30; “Feeling queasy?” (E. coli), July 27-29; “‘Man sues Rite Aid over stale jelly bean’“, July 20-22; “By reader acclaim: ‘Vegetarian sues McDonald’s over meaty fries“, May 4-6; “Woman settles hot pickle suit with McDonald’s“, April 16 (& Oct. 10, 2000); “Putting the ‘special’ in special sauce” (alleged rat in Big Mac), March 29.

2000:You deserve a beak today” (McDonald’s chicken case), Dec. 6.

1999:Are they kidding, or not-kidding?” (proposal for suits against makers of fattening foods), Nov. 15; “Toffee maker sued for tooth irritation“, Nov. 5-7; “More things you can’t have” (unpasteurized cider), Sept. 27; “Not just our imagination” (calls for class actions against fast food, meat industry), Sept. 25-26; “Taco Bell not liable for Ganges purification pilgrimage“, Aug. 30.

Beverages:Litigation good for the country?” (Carl T. Bogus), Aug. 19, 2002; “British judge rejects hot-drink suits“, Mar. 29-31, 2002 (& Aug. 10, 2000); “‘Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition’“, Nov. 18, 2001; “‘Group sues Starbucks over tea ingredient’“, Sept. 10; “By reader acclaim” (maker of cup holder), Jan. 11, 2001; “‘Court says warning about hot coffee unnecessary’” (Nevada Supreme Court), July 18, 2000; “Now it’s hot chocolate“, April 4; “Next on the class-action agenda: liquor?“, March 22, 2000; & see Sept. 10, 2001. For burns from hot beverages that were under the control of the complainant, see also personal responsibility page.

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February 8-10 – Crumbs from the table. “A Las Vegas jury has found that two attorneys committed malpractice in their representation of a brain-damaged man in a personal injury suit. It awarded the man, Jason Nault, $3.3 million. The lawyers had reached a $17 million settlement that gave Nault only $2.5 million — compared with $6.6 million to his wife, from whom he’s now divorced, and $6.8 million to the lawyers.” Attorney W. Randall Mainor of Las Vegas’ Mainor Harris, who with partner Richard Harris was found liable, “insists that the ruling throws a wrench in attorneys’ personal injury work.” However, attorney Gary Logan, who represented Nault on the malpractice claim, “said of Mainor and Harris, ‘This kind of conduct is the reason people hate lawyers.’ … Among the breaches in professional conduct that Logan alleged — some of which were raised at trial and some that were barred — were that another attorney, Joe Rolston, received a $2.2 million referral fee without ever receiving consent of his brain-damaged client, Nault.” Mainor “said that the fee paid to Rolston was an association fee, not a contingency fee.” Nault’s parents began caring for him in 1997. (Elizabeth Amon, “Malpractice Suit Tags Las Vegas Attorneys”, National Law Journal, Feb. 6). Update Jan. 1, 2005: Nevada Supreme Court reverses jury verdict.

February 8-10 – Overlawyered film sets. According to intellectual property expert Larry Lessig, moviemakers “must now ‘clear’ every image that appears in their films, obtaining permission even for minor items like posters in a dorm room, the advertisement on a passing truck, or a can of Coke in someone’s hands. It used to be, Lessig reports, you only had to do this if the item was immediately recognizable; now you have to do it if it shows up in a single stop-motion frame. Even the designers of buildings and furniture included in movie scenes are trying to claim the right to stop films that contain images of their products without permission.” (Glenn Reynolds, “Rights and wrongs”,, Feb. 6).

February 8-10 – “Judge orders God to break up into smaller Deities”. The Onion on antitrust law, and very funny, too (Jan. 30). While we’re at it: James V. DeLong of the Competitive Enterprise Institute comments on the proposed Microsoft settlement (Jan. 25).

February 8-10 – 2,000,000 + pages served on Exact figures are not available because the more comprehensive of our counter programs has gone on the fritz, but we think our tally passed two million pages late last year and now stands above two and a quarter million. Thanks for your support!

February 6-7 – Vandal’s dad sues store over blaze. “The father of a teen who helped spark the fatal Father’s Day blaze has filed a $2 million lawsuit against the store where the fire started.” Silverio Moreno’s “son and another boy tipped over a loose-lidded gallon of gasoline while spraying graffiti behind the store.” According to columnist Andrea Peyser, the younger child “told investigators that when Moreno came looking for his son, and saw what the boys did, he said: ‘Don’t say anything about it.’ Now dad “is suing the elderly owner of Long Island General Supply Co. for $2 million – claiming the store ‘carelessly and negligently permitted the building to explode,’ causing Moreno permanent injuries.” The suit has raised the ire of some widows of NYC firefighters killed in the blaze, although they themselves, it should be noted, “plan to file negligence suits against the hardware store in the future and they have not ruled out taking action against the city, said their lawyer, Michael Block.” (Jessie Graham, “Outrage at Suit By Firestarter’s Dad”, New York Post, Feb. 1; Andrea Peyser, “Of All the Gall! His Kid Is a Vandal — And He’s Suing?”, New York Post, Feb. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

February 6-7 – Chickens are next. In the latest stage of its campaign to use litigation to do an end run around what it considers overly permissive federal environmental agencies, the Sierra Club is targeting Kentucky farmers who raise chicken under contract with Tyson Foods (see Dec. 7, 2000, on hog farming). The suit contends that broiler operations should be counted as industrial emitters of ammonia gas because the individual chickens … well, it’s too indelicate to explain. (James Bruggers, “Sierra Club vows suit over chicken farms and dust they produce”, Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 5).

February 6-7 – Your home, their right to enter. Suburban Naperville, Ill. has emerged as the latest target in disabled rights activists’ campaign to require newly built private houses to be wheelchair-accessible — and if you’re a new homebuyer who doesn’t care for the cost and design trade-offs implicit in that, tough, you shouldn’t consider the house yours just because you’re the one paying for it (see Dec. 4, 2001, on Santa Monica) (Karen Mellen, “Making all new houses ‘visitable'”, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 5)(& see update Mar. 6)(& letter to the editor, Apr. 11).

February 6-7 – “Every Man a Cyber Crook”. “Shortly after it enacted the federal computer crime law, Congress amended it to allow victims to sue their attackers in federal court for damages. It is now proving to be a costly mistake. … in practice, private litigants have rarely used the civil provisions to pursue computer hackers, who, after all, usually don’t have very deep pockets. Instead, unfettered by the Department of Justice’s interpretation of federal law, litigants have used the computer crime laws to go after computer hardware manufacturers for product liability, Internet companies for software design, spammers and protesters for commercial and other protected First Amendment speech, and website operators for the installation and tracking of computer cookies.

“These unintended uses of the computer crime statute, and the court’s permitting the suits to proceed in many cases, creates a genuine risk that ordinary business activity and protected speech will be deemed to rise to the level of a computer crime, subject to federal prosecution.” (Mark Rasch,, Jan. 7).

February 4-5 – “‘Let’s Roll’ Trademark Battle Is On”. Why’d she have to hire that lawyer? No sooner does the widow of Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer set up a foundation to honor his memory than its lawyer announces that he’s having it apply for a trademark on the now-famous phrase “Let’s Roll”, so that anyone who wants to use the words on hats or t-shirts will have to fork over a royalty. Since September 11 numerous other individuals have also sought to copyright the phrase, although it was in common use before that date. (AP/Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 1).

February 4-5 – Element in $290,000 award: failure to meet Messiah in person. Dateline Salt Lake City: “A jury awarded $290,000 to two women who said they were deceived by a fundamentalist church whose leaders promised to produce Jesus Christ in the flesh. The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints of the Last Days was ordered Monday to pay $270,000 to Kaziah Hancock and more than $20,000 to Cindy Stewart for fraud, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” In exchange for substantial financial contributions from Hancock and Stewart, church founder Jim Harmston had allegedly promised the women various benefits including “membership in heaven’s elite and the chance to meet Christ on earth”. (AP/Boston Globe, Jan. 30)(see June 6, 2001).

February 4-5 – Stop, they said. An assistant professor of political science at the University of Manitoba is reportedly “fighting a $40 traffic ticket in provincial court by launching a constitutional challenge of stop signs — claiming the message they convey is too vague. In what may be one of the strangest legal arguments ever heard in the halls of the downtown Law Courts, Rod Yellon is seeking to prove the word ‘STOP’ isn’t a sufficient warning to motorists.” (excerpt said to be from the Winnipeg Free Press; quoted in Fresh Hell blog, Jan. 5).

February 4-5 – Reparations madness: gypsy survivors sue IBM. Representatives of European gypsies orphaned in the Holocaust want money and an apology from IBM because one of its German subsidiaries, taken over by the Nazi government before World War II, sold punch-card machines used to administer the concentration camp system. (“Gypsies Sue IBM, Claiming Machines Helped Nazis”, AP/, Feb. 1).

February 1-3 – “Aborigines claim kangaroo copyright”. “In Australia, a group of Aborigines has lodged a high court writ, seeking to stop the government from using the kangaroo and the emu on the national coat of arms. The Aboriginal activists say the representation of the animals — which they regard as sacred totems — is a breach of copyright.” They accuse the Commonwealth of Australia of cultural theft. (BBC, Jan. 29).

February 1-3 – Suicide plane crash blamed on acne drug. When a Florida 15-year-old crashed a plane into a Tampa skyscraper, press accounts were quick to link the incident to the boy’s prescription for the drug Accutane. “As only a handful of media outlets bothered to report a week later, an autopsy showed no trace of the drug in the boy’s system. … If you go to a Web site with an innocuous-sounding name like you’ll find you’ve actually come across a lawyer-referral service.” (Michael Fumento, “Bumps in the Night”, Reason Online, Jan. 23; “Tampa Crash Pilot Had Acne Drug Prescription”, AP/Washington Post, Jan. 9). “Rep. [Bart] Stupak’s [D-Mich.] hearings and the recent press stories have all left out one set of voices: the millions of Accutane users who have benefited from the drug.” (Jaime Sneider, “Skin Deep”, Jan. 23) Update Apr. 18: family sues.

February 1-3 – King Cake figurine menace averted. Columnist James Lileks recalls how things used to be with the famous King Cake baked in New Orleans for Mardi Gras: “Since they were the Real Thing, brought directly from N’Awlins, they had small plastic baby Jesuses (Jesii?) embedded in their doughy redoubts. Whoever cracked a molar on the extruded holy infant was obliged to buy the next King Cake. In these litigious days, the store-bought cakes cannot hide the child lest someone choke and sue, so the package explains the tradition, says that a coin can be substituted for the plastic baby — and the coin is sitting ON TOP of the cake, meaning no one will be stupid enough to take that piece.” (“The Bleat”,, Jan. 29).

February 1-3 – International tobacco suits: not quite such easy pickings. U.S. judges have so far not been particularly inclined to loot and expropriate the nation’s tobacco industry for the benefit of such foreign governments as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Ecuador, which with help from some entrepreneurial-sounding U.S.-based lawyers have sought to duplicate the 1998 feat of the state attorneys general. (Matthew Haggman, “Brazilian City Joins List of Foreign Entities Suing U.S. Cigarette Makers”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jan. 11). For details on the suit filed by that very needy and deserving claimant, the government of Saudi Arabia, see Nov. 16, 2000 and Dec. 10, 2001.