Madison Avenue’s Artisanal Scam

Pay no attention to anything going on behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to what’s going on behind the curtain.

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:


  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

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.

About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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45 Responses to Madison Avenue’s Artisanal Scam

  1. susielindau says:

    How do you pronounce asiago? Most of processed food isn’t even food. Scary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (squints at my jumbo-sized bag of ‘Whole Wheat All-Natural Home-baked with 50% real cheese Pizza Rolls’)
    What are you saying, Peg? These are BAD for me??!!! Damn you, Wally World!


  3. jlwilson80 says:

    In the distant future when civilization crumbles, and the robot lizards take over (according to Patton Oswalt), do you suppose the people are gonna romanticize big machines turning the leftovers of pigs, chickens, etc. into wieners? The very idea of mass produced food gets them salivating as they are forced to dig into home grown veggies. They think, “oh, I wish this was an Oscar Mayer wiener.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elyse says:

    Peg, you make me harken back to my childhood, when cheeze meant Velveeta …

    Liked by 2 people

  5. We have a local company which advertises its “artisan cheese” True, it is a local company owned for a long time by the same dairy farming family, and I have, in fact, driven past their facility on the Thruway. However, no way is there some guy sitting at an ancient wooden table crafting cheese wheels – not with all those shiny stainless steel silos and that huge manufacturing building. While their cheeses are different from other cheeses and of higher quality, they are definitely not hand-crafted.


    • pegoleg says:

      And yet, isn’t the idea of stainless steel and strict controls rather comforting when weighed against the very real possibility of contracting salmonella from home-grown stuff? I want it both ways.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Sadly, too much food is highly processed and hard on our digestion. Eating more fresh, real food is easier for the body to absorb the good stuff, thus making you feel better. You’re right about the marketing deception they play. Too bad for everyone. Stay cool, PegoLeg!


  7. pegoleg says:

    Do you think the processing makes it tougher to digest? Interesting. It seems intuitively true that natural has to be better for us.
    We are bracing for the “heat dome” that is supposed to hit soon. Heat indices from 105 to 115 degrees are NOT my idea of fun. Time to stock up on all-artificial Popsicles!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very observant, funny lady. You take the (homemade of pure ingredients) cake!

    There is “food fraud” all around us. Ever open a bag of chips only to find 2/3rds air and 1/3rd chips? Is that really necessary?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. List of X says:

    Well, to be fair, any finite number – anything less than infinity – is a “limited quantity”. So a multinational corporation producing 100 billion gigatons of processed cheese-like substance a year is, in fact, producing only a limited quantity of it.


  10. John says:

    Little shops around the corner still exist??? I thought Tom Hanks ended all that nonsense in “You’ve Got Mail.”


  11. You say ART-is-in-ull, I say marketing. Let the buyer beware.

    Right up there with “organic” and feng shui. Why do you have to spoil it for everyone with your blizzard of logic. What a killjoy. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I spent my early 20’s living near a Wonder Bread Factory outside of Boston. OMG, how I fantasized about breaking in and stealing that wonderfully aromatic (yet awful) WHITE doughy bread!! Now not so much. I totally agree, local and fresh is better when available, minus the damn carbs!


  13. Al says:

    This sounds like an excellent opportunity for Peg-o-Leg Industries. “Made fresh in Peg’s artisanal home and immediately shipped Air Express directly to you!” Could work, though it does sound a bit cheesy.


  14. There was a time when they marketed the sterile atmosphere in plants and the people in their white outfits and hair bonnets as being the healthy alternative. Especially with all the Vitamins that could be artificially introduced to whatever the product. Wonderbread and Kraft were the kings with that marketing. I grew up with Nabisco and Chef Boy Ar Dee plants always tempting our nostrils. They employed a lot of people and they all had horror stories from them.


    • pegoleg says:

      My boyfriend in high school had a job in a Coke distribution warehouse. He said if you saw where the cans came from – the rodents scurrying over the tops of the pallets, etc, you’d never drink out of a can without washing it in scalding, soapy water first.

      Funny how I forgot that warning over the years. Gulp.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. So crafty. Now that you’ve exposed their plot, these companies – desperate for money now that you’ve run off their audience – will have to imaginatively recreate other words to get people to pay more for less.


    • pegoleg says:

      Gotta admire that skill. I wish I could get people to pay for GOOD insurance. But they’d rather trust a lizard or a chick with red lipstick, neither of whom are likely to hold their hands when they have a claim. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Okay. Truth time. I mean, real truthiness, Peg. How much ART-is-in-al food research did you do before eating, er, um, writing this piece? I’m hungry just reading it!


  17. marymtf says:

    We’re too close to our computers to make our own cheese, bake our own bread and weave our own loin cloths, Peggy. If all of us expect those products to be available to us, we’re going to have to suspend disbelief as we chomp on our artisanal bread and sip on our bottled water.


  18. Great blog! Last week I entered a village bakery and bought a meat pie. I was told that the meat inside had been purchased from the immaculate butcher’s across the road.

    Every mouthful tasted like a sirloin steak had been shoved inside a freshly made piece of pastry! It was so delicious and made me think about all the other nasty pies I’d eaten before which contained I don’t know what and floor sweepings.

    I know you were expecting me to say I’d been conned.

    I was so delighted that I had been told the truth and I can’t to go back and buy another 100.

    If you ever come to England, I’ll give you the address x


  19. cliff445 says:

    Thanks Peg, yet another thought provoking piece. BRAVO!!!!
    Years ago when I decided to sign-up for baking school, I had that, exact, same romanticized vision in my head. My Mother was a dab hand at it, and I had wiled away many, glorious, afternoons by her side, her able assistant. 😀
    So I could, well, imagine myself, in finest artisanal tradition, skillfully forming that silky smooth dough, and expertly crafting and baking each, crusty golden, loaf of goodness by hand. I saw it all, the flour cascading, scoopful after mighty scoopful like magic fairy dust. Butter churning, Logs crackling on the hearth. Etc… Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes I did learn an ancient craft, machinery had replaced, manpower, for many menial tasks, but I was still an essential cog. By the time I joined the workforce, everything had become automated. One bespectacled man with a lab coat, and a computer monitor, could practically run the whole plant. Luckily for me, there were still some Mom & Pop bakeries that did things the old fashioned way. Alas, even many of those operations are now having frozen dough pucks shipped in to speed up the process. So sad:(


  20. I found you today by accident – not sure what I did but I’m glad I did it – and am so happy to be here. You’re so full of fun, but at the same time you make some serious observations. I just love your style of writing, it’s kind of pithy and so wonderfully expressive. Brilliant.

    I am your latest follower, and thrilled to be so.
    Have a blessed rest of your day ~ Cobs.


  21. 9recipes says:

    I am very interested in your post! Thanks


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