An old man works at an ancient, wooden table in a murky room illuminated by sunlight from a single window. He meticulously crafts a perfect wheel of creamy, yellow cheese… just for you.
A little girl presses her face against the window of a shop so Alpine cliché it’s straight from the Heidi’s Bavarian Goat Herder ride at Disney World. A gorgeous male model in a white chef’s hat is hand-rolling caramels on a buttered marble slab inside the shop.
A brawny cook lifts a steaming pan of golden, roasted turkey from a wood-fired stove. The cutaway shot of a weathered, red barn implies your lunch-meat was frolicking in clover right up to the moment it was, well…you know.
We’ve all seen these commercials. At the end they reveal the company behind the product is Kraft, Werther’s, Hillshire Farm or a similar corporate giant. The food advertised was actually cooked in 50,000 gallon, stainless steel pressure cookers in a New Jersey factory. The “craftsmen” are UFCW union guys in white lab coats with hairnets on their beards.
Welcome to advertising’s latest scam; the “Art(isanal)ful Dodger”.
According to Merriam-Webster, “artisanal” comes from the word:
- a worker who practices a trade or handicraft : craftsperson
- one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods
Are these multi-national conglomerates claiming to craft food in limited quantities using traditional methods? Yeah, right.
The artisanal scam is especially popular with supermarket chain bakery departments.
Marketing gurus in the home office print signs on black paper using the “hand-written-in-chalk” font, and a corporate memo dictates the exact number of rustic bread loaves that should be heaped in wicker baskets in front of the glass cases. We’re supposed to think we’ve wandered into a Parisian patisserie, and be inspired to spend more of our bread to buy their bread. The reality is that their baked goods started life in a factory and were shipped frozen to the local store. At best they were briefly popped into an oven onsite so the smell of freshly-baked bread would waft enticingly through the place.
Companies slap this adjective on products with no regard for the truth because they know we like the idea of buying hand-made goods at the farmer’s market. In theory. When spending our hard-earned money, however, we go for cheap and convenient at the Wal-Mart Superstore.
I’m not dissing mass production. It’s probably the single most important reason the quality of life has improved so drastically for most of the Western world in the last 200 years. This is especially true in regards to food safety. The places in those faux-artisan commercials (which are supposed to represent the “good old days”) are so dimly lit an entire chorus of rodents could be doing a kick-line in the batter with no one the wiser.
Although mass production is great for many things, hand-crafted goods are usually better made and more unique. That means a higher price tag, but it’s probably worth the splurge.
If you want truly hand-crafted products, check out your local farmer’s markets, fairs, and little shops right around the corner. The Wal-Mart Superstore? Not so much.
*Helpful English Tip: Many of y’all are mispronouncing “artisanal.” Everyone says “ar-TEASE-a-null” with the accent on the second syllable. Wrong. It’s “ART-is-in-ull,” accent on the first syllable. This mispronunciation has become so common that people probably think I am an ignorant doofus when I say it properly.
Go to the Merriam-Webster website, listen to the pronunciation, say it right, and stop making me look bad.