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All Artisanal Everything: Handmade or Just Branded That Way?

These days even fast food is supposedly made by craftspeople.

In September, the fast-food chain that brought the world a bread bowl stuffed with pasta shifted its focus to “quality ingredients and craftsmanship.” Yes, you heard right: Domino’s now has a line of “artisan” pizzas. And guess who now makes "artisanal" chips? Tostitos. With the corporate appropriation of a word that means handmade by craftspeople, it seems that "artisan" is poised go down the same frought path as “green” and “organic."

That’s a shame. We live in the age of basics as luxuries, where eaters and consumers are less compelled by frills than by quality and are willing to pay more for locally made or carefully produced (in a word, artisanal) products and experiences. Whether that’s a bunch of beets from a nearby farm, a shave at a barber shop, or a meticulously prepared cocktail, it’s a quasi-political movement as much as an aesthetic one, reflecting an increased interest in supporting small businesses and supply chains with minimal environmental impact. When corporations hijack the terminology without the ethos, they confuse people, rendering once-descriptive words useless.

At the same time, it could be argued that the problem is of the food movement's own making. It has convinced people to honor farmers by paying more for local vegetables. But for some, shopping at a farmers' market is just another way to consume conspicuously, like buying fancy bottled water. And for those who can't afford to spend more, there's something aspirational about artisanal goods, now produced for the masses with a little help of our friends at Domino's.

The only question now is, what’s the new artisanal?

Photo via (cc) Flickr user emrank

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