In a now-deleted viral TikTok, a food creator accused an unnamed popular food magazine—which users speculated was Delish—of using her recipe without crediting her, despite many differences between the recipes. The video sparked a conversation about whether the recipe in question was copied, creators “rebranding” cultural dishes as their own, companies using creators’ ideas, and why recipes can’t be copyrighted.
The viral video, which was viewed at least 100,000 times before being deleted Tuesday, was posted earlier in the week by food TikToker Monica D’Agostino (@saltandsagenutrition), who has 55,000 followers. In the video, the TikToker says she believes one of her recipes may have been stolen by a major food magazine.
“I know in the food space there’s a lot of different variations of recipes. People can kind of, like, tweak them and make them their own and create their own recipes based on other people’s recipes, but when something like this happens, it really bothers me,” D’Agostino said in the video.
The TikToker then claimed she originally came up with an idea for a turkey feta meatball recipe around 2018 when she only had 400 followers on Instagram. She said she finally posted it on TikTok a few months ago, and it went viral. Her recipe video for turkey feta meatballs posted in July currently has over 1.6 million views.
the OG meatball recipe♬ original sound – saltandsagenutrition
After her recipe video went viral, the TikToker claimed a friend messaged her asking if a recipe for turkey feta meatballs in a food magazine with over 2.9 million Instagram followers was her own. The TikToker said the recipe article was paywalled, so she subscribed for $3 a month to see if the recipe was similar to her own.
“I go and I realize it is my exact recipe. They added one more clove of garlic, they switched red onion to white onion, and they added in parsley. But other than that, it is my exact recipe. They slightly tweaked the way that you cook them,” the TikToker says in the video.
The TikToker then said she does not wish to name the food magazine in question; however, users speculated in the comments section it was Delish. Delish has 2.9 million followers on Instagram, a $3 monthly digital subscription, and a turkey feta meatball recipe that dropped this month. The article is behind a paywall.
When looking at the Delish recipe in question, it appears there are more differences between the two recipes than mentioned by the TikToker. For example, Delish’s current recipe on its website calls for 1 tablespoon of chopped dill, whereas the TikToker’s calls for 3 tablespoons of minced dill. The recipes also call for different amounts of onion, crumbled feta, bread crumbs, and greek yogurt, as well as different oven temperatures.
Passionfruit reached out to the TikToker and Delish for comment via email, but did not hear back in time for the publication of this article.
In the now-deleted TikTok video, the TikToker said she wanted to bring attention to the issue of creators not getting credit for their ideas.
“No matter what you want to think, it’s a tough job. So when I’m over here trying to think of every single thing that I can possibly do, and ways to reinvent the wheel, and ways to make my audience engage, and I come up with something that people really enjoy, it’s nice to be recognized for it,” the TikToker said in the video.
She then said if the company reached out to her asking if it could adapt the recipe and credit her for it, she would have given her blessing and said thank you.
“I’m really not, you know, a huge creator on this app, and it would mean a lot for me if I could have credit for that. … I just think it should be up to these larger companies who are getting their inspiration now from these smaller TikTok creators—they should have to give credit where credit is due. … That recipe is always going to be better with red onion rather than white onion. So if you want to make it, it’s on my page, and it’s free,” the TikToker says in the video.
The video divided viewers, who debated whether the recipe was copied. Many viewers pointed out that the recipe for meatballs with turkey and feta is common. When searching for turkey feta meatballs, many recipes for Greek meatballs with turkey and feta come up, including from years before the TikToker claims to have come up with her own version.
As previously covered by the Daily Dot, white creators have often been criticized for “rebranding” traditional cultural dishes and seeing viral success for it. For example, many creators have responded to and made fun of a TikToker who co-opted Mexican agua fresca, calling it “spa water.”
Users in the comments section of the viral TikTok pointed out similarities between the TikToker’s recipe and Greek meatballs.
“I know large brands do not give credit enough (or at all) which is probably the case here but i wanted to respectfully point out that turkey feta meatballs sound a lot like keftedes (greek meatballs) which there are plenty of recipes/variations for,” one user argued.
“Turkey meatballs in that style have been made for centuries. I’ve been making them for 5+ years too & this is the 1st I’ve seen from you,” another debated.
In response to those saying the recipe duplicate timing was a “coincidence,” the creator of the TikTok replied: “I said I was aware I didn’t come up with the concept and that there are different variations. I was saying it was weird timing w the video and that this is an issue in general with larger companies not giving smaller creators credit. I also said it very well could be a coincidence but something that should be addressed because it happens a lot.” the creator of the TikTok replied.
Multiple viewers also pointed out that TikTok recipes, and recipes in general, are not copyrightable, saying, “The problem is recipes aren’t really copyrightable… It’s a gray area. And people change one ingredient and call them their own recipe.”
Recipes not being legally protected by copyright is a hot topic in the digital food creation space. According to the Copyright Alliance, recipes are legally copyrightable only if they are paired with “substantial literary expression,” aka detailed baking directions or personal writing alongside a recipe. This is why many recipes online have long explanations or stories paired with a recipe’s ingredients and instructions. However, even if a recipe has “substantial literary expression,” copyright law does not protect a recipe’s ingredient list or cooking process.
Many creators in the comments section said they related to the experience of having their ideas copied or adapted by other creators, websites, or companies. In response to creators sharing their own stories in the comments section, the creator replied in a comment, saying, “I love watching people draw inspo from me and recreate stuff I just HATE the no credit.”
Many users supported the TikToker, noting the timing of the article’s publication and similarities in the two recipes’ ingredients. Some urged her to seek reparative action from Delish.
“You absolutely should take it up with them. It’s your recipe,” one user commented.
“@delish give her credit!!!!” another demanded.
“I am sorry this happened to you. It’s unfortunate that these bigger companies have no integrity. Red onion is better,” another replied.
Controversy stirred by the TikTok made its way to Instagram, where users commented on Delish’s recent post about the recipe. Comments accused the company of “stealing” the recipe from the TikToker. However, social media users on TikTok familiar with the situation continued to debate if an adaptation of a recipe is considered “stealing” in this case.
TikTok food creators—and food writers in general—have for years debated the issue of their recipes being replicated with eerie similarities by other digital content hubs. As mentioned earlier in this article, BIPOC creator communities have also criticized white creators for often claiming their recipe ideas are original when they are pulled from pre-existing cultural dishes.
On FoodTok, it is common for creators to tag other creators they pulled recipes from. Even this practice is sometimes scrutinized, with creators complaining it’s unfair to use a recipe they spend hours perfecting.
Regardless, many food creators on TikTok continue to argue that every single recipe is adapted, with some twists, from other recipes. It is widely acknowledged the art of recipe-making is built on a history of sharing and swapping ideas.