Artisan Turds

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Some of the best food I've ever had came in unmarked containers. Eggs from a friend with chickens, cashews from the co-op, raw dairy from the cowshare. Well, sometimes they had Ohio Tea Party rally ads on the cartons, but other than that these foods had nothing more than maybe a sticker with “ground lamb” written in Sharpie. No ingredients list, nutrition facts or false claims. On the other hand, some of the worst milk I've ever drank came in a glossy paper carton with a smiling cow and the words organic, all natural and no rBST printed about four times each. The sparkling lemon water in the oh-so-elegant bottle doesn't actually contain lemon juice, but instead “natural flavors” in its place. And now we know Kashi cereals use trans-genic soy. Packaging is advertising and food advertising can be ruthlessly deceptive. It's not like the farmer, after a day's work, is opening up Illustrator to design their next ad campaign. It's most likely an outsourced PR company. And they've found a new buzzword.

“What do you think artisan means?” asks the alternative-but-not-too-alternative youth in Dunkin' Donuts latest push.

According to Merriam-Webster, “a worker who practices a trade or handicraft. One that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods.”

As the largest retailer of bagels in the US, I guess that rules out the limited quantities thing. And honestly, the first human hand to touch that bagel probably belongs to the poor kid taking your order–before the bossman yells to put some damn gloves on, of course. Sorry, I'm just having trouble picturing old-world bakers carefully kneading in the high fructose corn syrup and calcium lactate before craft-fully sprinkling in a dash of potassium sorbate (talk about an everything bagel!). Should we go with alt-youth #2's answer on this one–“really, really, really good bagels”? Mehh…

Marc Fintz, Director of Business Development of Davidovich Bakery in Queens, is taking legal action against the doughnut Goliath, claiming they should be held accountable for building an ad campaign “entirely at odds with their production method.”

To which Dunkin' has responded, “(Artisan) is a common term used to describe quality food and authentic, traditional ingredients and taste, we therefore believe it is a fair and appropriate word to describe the line of bagels featuring our new bagel recipe.”

By taking the angle that “artisan” and “traditional” are subjective terms, Dunkin' can get away with calling it's product artisan. In their eyes, a softer, chewier bagel is an artisan bagel, regardless of how it was made.

Dunkin' isn't the only one on the bandwagon. Tostito's – who recently faced a lawsuit over using GMO oils in their “all natural” products – now have an artisan tortilla chip. Starbucks' has artisan breakfast sandwiches. And in pizzaland, Domino's, who recently introduced a line of artisan pizzas, takes a slightly different approach to Dunkin's artisan rationalization, although arrive at the same conclusion. Each box reads: “We're not artisans. We don't wear black berets, cook with wood-fired ovens or apprentice with the masters in Italy.”

We're not artisans, but we can say we are.

Are there no rules in food labeling? Besides, I guess, this one. But seriously, once a buzzword like artisan catches on, it becomes so watered-down and abstract that it's meaningless. And that belittles the true food artisans.

In this cartoon-assed world where you can buy a bacon sandwich with fried chicken for bread or a Cooler Ranch-shelled taco, these self-proclaimed artisans simply represent the other side of the industrial-food coin. An ambiguous, lawyer-backed and highly-mechanized coin. Only a couple more of those and you've got yourself a shitty bagel.