Elizabeth Haigh's Makan cookbook plagiarism

This saga is making big, big news in the Singapore culinary (and publishing) world.

Singapore-born and UK-based celebrity chef, former Masterchef UK contestant, Michelin-starred Elizabeth Haigh’s cookbook, Makan (published May 2021) contained recipes and whole excerpts of anecdotes lifted from another Singaporean cookbook, Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen: Singapore Recipes from My Mother, written by New York-based Sharon Wee back in 2012.

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Some examples pointed out last week by Singapore poet-writer, Daryl Lim, who’d bought both cookbooks:

Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
“My mother, like many of her friends, placed their most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy access while they cooked. That often meant a plastic tray . . . where there were small bottles of soy sauces, sesame oil, and jars of minced garlic, salt and sugar. In the past there would also have been a metal container to hold recycled cooking oil.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
"My mother . . . kept her most frequently used condiments and ingredients within easy reach of where she cooked. That often meant a plastic tray full of little jars of oils, crispy-fried shallots or garlic, crushed garlic, salt and sugar. There was also usually an old metal pot for recycled or discarded frying oil.”

AAAA

Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
Ginger is thought to ‘pukol angin’ (beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). Hence, post-natal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind.’ In my case, a backache, especially in the winter, was often remedied with a knob of ginger, with the sliced surface dipped in brandy. The brandied ginger was used to rub my back and it left red streak marks, indicating the wind in my flesh and bones. It always worked.
The ginger flavor is strongest just beneath its skin. Therefore, leave the skin on to get the most of the flavor.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
“Ginger is thought to have healing properties – pukol angin (to beat the toxic gases and dampness out of you to relieve aches and pains). This is why postnatal mothers were given lots of ginger to ‘beat the wind’ . . . The strongest ginger is just beneath the skin, so to get the most flavour out of it don’t peel it.”

AAAA

Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
(from Chillies entry in the ingredient glossary): This particular type had been developed in Holland so that the Dutch could replicate their favourite Indonesian dishes back in their homeland, far away from their previous colonies. . . . My mother . . . always threatened to smear our lips with chilli paste if we ever told a lie. It was an effective tactic.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
“This type was developed in Holland so that the Dutch could replicate their favourite Indonesian dishes back in their homeland, far away from their previous colonies . . . When we were little, or growing up, if we were naughty, my mother would threaten to rub chili on our gums or put it on our toothbrush. We always behaved after that threat because we totally believed her.”

AAAA

Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
“Traditionally, the Nonyas engaged all their senses when they cooked — it was important to gauge the color of the gravy, smell the aroma of the spices, feel the warmth of the charcoal heat, listen to the rhythm of the pounding, and most importantly taste the final product when the cooking is finished. … Cooking was by estimation or what the Nonyas called agak-agak.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
“By tradition, Nonya Aunties engaged all their senses when they cooked. It was really important to gauge the smells and colour of the gravy; feel the warmth of the charcoal or wok heat; listen to the sizzle of the rempah; and — the best bit — taste constantly. The Aunties cooked by agak agak, or ‘guesstimation.’”

AAAA
Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
“It faced its many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis and tahils (old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daun (or herbs) and rempah (spice pastes). Recipe testing in New York could be challenging. Shopping for ingredients necessary for our cuisine often entailed trekking down to Chinatown by subway with a large shopping trolley.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
“I faced many challenges along the way. It began with my having to translate hard-to-read handwritten notes, or convert measurements, and moved on to learning about the different daun (herbs) or rempahs (spice pastes). Technique aside, ingredients were hard to find, but thankfully I was just a bus ride away from Chinatown in central London.”

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Let me guess, someone was tasked to write a cookbook for her. Instead, that person got lazy and just copied from another cookbook. Haigh got lazy and didn’t even bother reading her own book before publishing.

This is just publishing for $$$, not writing for love.

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I suspected as much. But to pass off another person’s life experiences as one’s own - that’s really crossing the line.

Yup, her heart was never in it. The irony was, Haigh’s cookbook was entitled Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore

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Someone misrepresented themself, their experiences, photos, etc? Tell me it isn’t true.

Maybe in this case it was for money and/or laziness…in other cases it’s a personality disorder and ego. Ego and self value can be destructive motivators.

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Plagiarism in this day of the internet is so baffling to me. I cannot imagine that plagiarists ever get away with it. Perhaps I’m naive…

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Agree.

I’ll even speculate that there was a publishing deadline to be met, then it became clear that the schedule would not be met, so “writer(s)” were hurriedly hired to provide content for the lowest price possible.

When something is published that shouldn’t have been, insufficient time and money (to pay those who would do the work properly) are likely causes.

Such an icky situation, whatever the story behind the story turns out to be.

ETA: I’ll bet a rush to publish is how the obviously plagiarized content escaped notice, @GretchenS. I had the same reaction as you did!

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@tomatotomato your whole explanation makes total sense to me, especially this part. I was thinking that I know friends who are teachers check for plagiarized content (and tell their students up front at the beginning of every semester that they will be doing so, to lessen temptation) so why wouldn’t a publisher do so to avoid such an obviously embarassing and reputation-harming situation?

Totally icky, as you noted.

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Just saw that Eater London has run this long-form piece.

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Read more on Haigh in wikipedia:

The book was also found plagiarising from other sources such as from a food blogger’s blog, Rasa Malaysia .[17] Singaporean company Anthony The Spice Maker also found directions on how to use two of the spice blends listed in Mei Mei’s online catalogue being 80% similar to their own while conducting a market research.

The book isn’t a stand alone case, I tend to agree with @Respectfully_Declined:

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Is integrity not valued?

I was hired by some ESL students to do their writing class homework and had to submit the completed papers to the college plagiarism software then attach the receipt when submitting them to their professors. I’m glad too. I don’t want people stealing my work!!

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@klyeoh , what are the reactions in Singapore?

She can kiss her future jobs (in this field) goodbye. How will she ever be able to live down this career-destroying embarrassment :thinking:

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I’ve been following this for a few days on Insta. Appalling.

Somehow Amazon still has the book available.

The chef’s statement:

The NZ bookstore that flagged the publisher’s surreptitious email withdrawing the book:

Daily Mail had one of the earliest articles:

The eater article has received some criticism too for the treatment of recipe writing.

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Actually, happened to me. Not cookbooks. I designed identity for a hotel, including its few restaurants. The same identity was used identically by another hotel’s restaurants (both international hotels). Turned out the printer of the first hotel sneakily sold the concept and design to the second hotel. Of course lawsuits followed.

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Many people, especially in the culinary industry, were shocked by Haigh’s brazen behavior.

I have friends who’re well-established cookbook authors in Singapore, and they were absolutely scandalized by this incident.

I’d been wanting to try her latest venture, Mei Mei in Borough Market, London, which opened in 2019, but had to scrap my London trip because of COVID last year. Now, I don’t think I even want to eat there anymore - the whole affair had cast a shadow over her whole reputation.

No apology as yet from the perpetrators.

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I’ve a look at her IG, looks like an interesting cook though. Even if it was the fault of her publishing and marketing team, this costs her reputation.

The biography plagiarism was the horrible part. I think worse than recipes copying.

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Agreed. That was what rankled and hurt Sharon Wee so much - she said her personal life experiences were co-opted by Elizabeth Haigh.

In this instance below, Sharon’s reminiscences of the difficulties faced by her mum in New York, was turned into Haigh’s personal experience in London:

Sharon Wee (2012) wrote:
“It faced many challenges along the way. It first started with converting her handwritten recipe measurements from katis to tahils (Old Chinese measurements) and learning the different daun (herbs) and rempah (spice pastes). Recipe testing in New York could be challenging. Shopping for ingredients necessary for our cuisine often entailed trekking down to Chinatown by subway.”

Elizabeth Haigh (2021):
“I faced many challenges along the way. It began with my having to translate hard-to-read handwritten notes, or convert measurements, and moved on to learning about the different daun (herbs) and rempah (spice pastes). Techniques aside, ingredients were hard to find, but thankfully I was just a bus ride away from Chinatown in central London.”

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Cultural appropriation is bad? Try life appropriation.

Its her book, she should read it.

If the writer asked her to provide some life stories, and she never replied, and the writer had to make some stuff up. She still has to bear most of the responsibility. Its her book.

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I suspected Haigh has read it, and actually liked it ! LOL!
That food writer’s career is finished too and someone at the publishing house as well.

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On a brighter note, I don’t know if Sharon Wee is known, but this incident certainly stirs up interests in her and her book.

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