The Word “Artisanal”

artisan 3Lately, there has been a rash of “artisans” creating products for the major conglomerate food companies.  Or so we’ve been led to think.  The words “artisanal” and “artisan” have been thrown around so much in recent times that they have lost their original meaning and no longer have anything to do with honed craft and years of hard work perfecting a product.  An “artisan” is “one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artisan).  I don’t think there’s anything “limited quantity” about Domino’s Artisan Pizza, or Sargento’s Artisan Blend cheeses.  These are giant food conglomerates that are using a word that has lost its true meaning.  Artisanal and artisan have come to mean “fancy,” “strange ingredients” and “more expensive.”  It’s that last one that causes most companies to make “artisanal” products…the public expects artisanal products to take longer and have more steps involved in its manufacture, so they are willing to pay more…FOR A WORD!

“The Kitchn,” a recipe blog I follow, asked some true artisans (people who hone their craft over years and years , and who specialize in a small range of products) what the term “artisanal” means to them.  It’s interesting to read some of the responses.  Perhaps the best response came from Kevin West, of Saving the Season (a jam and jelly shop).  He said:

“Artisanal” is the Paris Hilton of food words – it went from obscurity to ubiquity in no time, and now I’d like to see that trajectory reversed. The first time I remember hearing it used frequently was in 2001, around the opening of Terrance Brennan’s New York cheese-centric restaurant, Artisanal. Back then I liked the word because of its etymological roots in skilled craft – akin to “art” but with that special connotation of the practical arts, such as carpentry, iron-working, and making food.  In recent years “artisanal” has become a synonym for small, smaller, smallest – the Portlandia battle cry – and has grown shabby with overuse. Now that Domino’s has unveiled Artisan Pizzas, the word is officially threadbare. Anyone who cares about food or language should put “artisanal” in cold storage for a century, in hopes that it may be restored and repaired by generations to come.

I think Kevin says it all here.  “Artisanal” has lost its true meaning and people are not able to distinguish between true artisans and conglomerates masquerading as artisans.  To view the full blog, go here: http://www.thekitchn.com/what-does-artisan-mean-to-you-174439.

artisan 2The people that are suffering are the true artisans; those people that own the small shops and take their wares to local fairs and markets.  These people are the ones who are truly worthy of the term “artisan!”  They have worked for years to become masters of their trade, concentrating on products such as cheese, wine, bread, ice cream, jam, cakes, meats, etc.  These are the people who pay high rent and who need to transport their products in their own cars to and from markets and fairs.  My cousin owns a cafe, where she serves pies and cakes that she has spent years perfecting, she travels to local markets and fairs, and is well known around her town (https://www.facebook.com/HavenCoffeeandEspressoBar).  She is suffering because of “artisanal” pies and cakes that are being mass marketed.  These are the people who have the right to charge a little more for their specialty product because they use perfect ingredients and have high overhead costs.  Yet, these people now suffer when consumers can run out to the local A&P and buy an “artisanal” product for less money.  The true artisans are dying out because people don’t know the difference between real artisanal products and fake artisanal, mass produced products.

artisan 1Another blog I follow has linked the increase in mass produced “artisanal” products to the English language losing meaning and “getting watered down.”  C. Woznicki says: “artisanal this, artisanal that; everything these days is “artisanal.” This either means that these multimillion dollar corporations have completely changed the way they produce their products or the word artisanal no longer means “an item created by someone who is devoted to a trade or handicraft, often making these items in limited quantities using traditional methods.” “(http://cwoznicki.com/2013/07/06/im-at-a-loss-for-words-or-how-our-language-gets-watered-down/).  I agree with him that people don’t really know what the term artisanal means any more, and they think it means “fancy,” or “interesting.”  The artisans that are closing their shops and taking jobs at McDonald’s are the ones losing out.  They’re the ones these companies are hurting with their “artisanal” products.  I’m boycotting “fake” artisanal products.  From now on, I will buy my cheese, bread, jams, sweets, even pizza from people who truly know how to make them and who are masters of their craft!

 

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