Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been on my bookshelf for two years, mostly unused, since my wife purchased it for me after we first saw Julie and Julia. When we saw that movie again last week, I was inspired to take down the book and cook some eggs.
Well-cooked eggs are scrumptious, and cooking eggs well seems easy when you watch Julia:
Evidence that a picture is a worth a thousand words, the instructions in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for making an omlette -- which has only four ingredients (eggs, butter, salt, and pepper) -- are seven pages long! This is why most people never cook from Julia's classic book.
But I have been drawn in, attracted by Julia's emphasis on technique as the key to great cooking. In the original forward of the book, she wrote: "the excellence of French cooking, and of good cooking in general, is due more to cooking techniques than to anything else."
Although I have enjoyed cooking since childhood, when I spent hours in the kitchen with my mother, I am largely reliant on recipes. Julia promises something more:
Our primary purpose in this book is to teach you how to cook, so that you will understand the fundamental techniques and gradually be able to divorce yourself from a dependence on recipies.
This approach to cooking resonates with me right now. As I have contemplated my goals for the next year, Mastering the Art of French Cooking has become a metaphor for the manner in which I want to approach my teaching, my scholarship, my Church service, my family interactions, and my personal development. "Precision in the small details," Julia observed, "can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food." It's already clear to me that Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not just about food.
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran a story (password required) on federal prosecutors using the “responsible corporate officer” doctrine to impose personal liability on the officers and directors of drug companies for violations of food & drug laws.
This revives an obscure doctrine that I wrote about a few years ago (see here, pages 313-318) for a book that compared director liability for corporate actions across countries. The responsible corporate officer is understandably extremely worrying for corporate boards and executives because it means civil and even criminal liability when a corporation violates a law absent a director or officer knowing about the violation.
It is important to note that the scope of the doctrine is limited. It sprang forth in the 1943 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Dotterweich which interpreted the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The Court upheld the application of the doctrine to the same statute in 1975 in U.S. v. Park. In the 2003 case Meyer v. Holley, the Court revisited the doctrine and stated that Congress must be fairly explicit in a statute that it intends the doctrine to apply. And the current Supreme Court is unlikely to reverse course on this. The responsible corporate officer doctrine is unlikely to apply to new statutes absent explicit Congressional language.
Even so, the doctrine does apply to more than one federal food & drug statute. I list a number of federal cases in that book chapter I mention above. Moreover, state legislatures and courts have also applied the statute to state laws (and Meyer v. Holley does not necessarily constrain the ability of state courts to apply the doctrine to state statutes more liberally). So this dormant doctrinal strain should only give pause to boards and executives in certain heavily regulated industries that are subject to certain statutes. The doctrine is more limited, but potentially vastly more powerful – because lack of knowledge is not a defense -- than other sources of liability for directors that have been much more analyzed in recent years (for example, securities laws and Disney/Caremark/Stone v. Ritter).