You’re at the market and in need of bread. You see a couple of loaves; one is marked “artisan” and the other isn’t. Which do you choose?
There was a time when the term “artisan” meant something. When it indicated a product made with care; with love; with the knowledge of a craftsperson. Unfortunately in the age of food marketing, the word has lost its value.
In France, they’re serving up McBaguettes, that promise traditional loaves of French bread to customers—approved by a real French baker at that. Back in the U.S., Dominos Pizza makes artisan-style crust. Just like you’d find in Italy of course. In need of a hearty, homemade soup? Look for the Artisan line by Campbell’s. The word artisan is everywhere, and to a locavore and people who care about real food, such corporate efforts are disheartening; a disingenuous attempt at capitalizing on a growing trend.
By definition, an artisan is:
1 : a worker who practices a trade or handicraft : craftsperson
2 : one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods
Craftsmanship is a good thing. Craftsmanship used to sell a mass-marketed product is quite another, removing us from the definition of the word entirely.
The beauty of the artisan movement is that there has been a resurgence in public demand for handmade, crafted products, particularly when it comes to food—an appreciation for products that are made with not only love.
Despite our national addiction to fast food, somewhere along the line, many of us have proclaimed a desire to have better and more authentic food. The processed food world was of course listening, and has taken the word for its own.
In the western world—a land of consumption—the choices available to us, particularly when it comes to food, are overwhelming. Go down a grocery aisle and count the number of cereals you can buy. As consumers we want to be able to make purchasing decisions based on our values, but we live fast paced lifestyles, so we want that choice to be easy too. What do we do? We turn to labels. We start to gravitate towards things like “organic” “traditional” and “artisan” because at their core, they mean something. Until they don’t.
The food industry is a billion dollar business, one that puts profit over public health. If an overly processed pizza from a chain restaurant is labeled “artisan” we have to question what it means.
Good food from good places shouldn’t need a label, but we live in a world where we need guidance and direction. However, there is as much personal responsibility as there is corporate, and while we may want big food business to get a slap on the wrist and change their ways, while we wait, we must do the same.
Don’t Blindly Consume
Know the brands, the ingredients and the people. We’re quick to judge a book by its cover when it comes to food, but just because it says “organic” and “artisan” on the label does not mean that it came from a bucolic pasture where all of the workers were well treated. Take the time to ask yourself what those labels really mean. Are they purely superficial marketing tactics or do they represent something real? Always make sure to look at the ingredients, and go by the rule of "if your grandmother doesn't know what it is, don't buy it." You can't always ensure that ingredients like flours and sugars are organic and locally sourced, but you can ensure that you are eating something that's free of chemicals and processed compounds.
You don’t have to be at farmers market to ask questions about what you’re eating. Engage the person working at the grocery store as well. Getting them talking about what they’re selling is as good for them as it is for you.
Know Who You Are Buying From
If you are in an economic position to be selective about what you eat, then you have an obligation to do so. Voting with your fork means putting your money into places that you know exactly where it’s going. That means that your local baker doesn’t need an artisan label on his bread – you know that he made it and that he is committed to using the best ingredients. Get to know your baker and ask where their ingredients come from, how they make their bread and why they think it's important to buy local. If you don't ask, you won't learn.
Original bread image from Shutterstock