Complaint Desk

Do Artisan, Craft and Other Food Words Mean Anything? Of Course.

Yesterday I published a post that took a quick look at Grub Burger Bar, which recently opened in Greenville Avenue. The menu touted buns baked on the hour, and while they were certainly much better than stale, old buns, they left a lot to be desired compared to artisan loaves.

It was my use of the word artisan that struck a nerve with one reader. Dominicide1 was "irked" with my use of the term artisan and he said as much in the comments. So irked that a list of the most irritating food descriptions was in order.

Here are a few of the most "irksome" descriptions that won't go away, according to Domincide:

1. artisan

2. artisanal (my holy mother of God, no)

3. craft

4. farm -- no shit Sherlock

5. farm-to-table (1000+ year old process)

6. veggie

While they may seem meaningless to some, these words have a significance to people who are deeply invested in our food system. Of course all chickens come from farms, but there are large factory farms where birds roost in their own shit, and there are small family farms where they get to run around and peck at things. There are also many farms in between, but the hope is that when you see "farm-raised," "free-range" or some other permutation next to chicken or other animal, it came from a farm with fields and grass and humans that had a vested interest in my meal

Bread-baking can go both ways, too. Commercial bakeries use excess sugar and yeast to speed up the baking process to churn out bread in just an hour or two. That's how Wonder Bread is made and it shares the same pallid, flavorless qualities of those factory-raised chickens. Find a good local baker, though, and you can get loaves that take many days to make. The flavors achieved by long ferment times and careful baking at the hand of a master baker and his workers can only be described as artisanal, and sometimes a work of art.

See also: Nine Artisan Foods in Dallas That You Should Be Eating (or Chugging) Right Now

But the sad part is, you're right. Because these terms aren't protected they're nearly meaningless, especially as far as marketing goes. It's hard to find a major food manufacturer that doesn't offer an artisan product, from Domino's pizza, to Starbucks sandwiches, to Dunkin' Donuts bagels, and none of it is made by hand start to finish. But we shouldn't just abandon the terms because they've been abused. They still have value.

I use artisan or artisanal to indicate something a skilled worker made by hand, and I consider their work a craft. If I had my way farm-raised would only be applied to farms that make use of sustainable practices and treat their livestock humanely and with respect, while farm-to-table would denote a return to age-old practices our quest for efficiency has caused us to forget. Buy vegetables at your local farmers market and then pick up the same type at your local Walmart. You can't deny the difference.

Speaking of vegetables, I have to agree with you on veggie. If someone wants to truncate vegetable, they should have the guts to clip it all the way to the 'g.' Veg is what I want, harvested at a local farm and parboiled and sautéed in cultured butter. Serve it with a pork chop cut from a heritage pig by an artisan butcher and seared by a chef who knows his craft.

Enjoy your pork and broccoli.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz