Artisanal Overkill

I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming a little more wary of certain catch phrases that keep popping up in many of our consumer products today, and especially in our food. I mean, you can’t really go to your local supermarket or to a local restaurant here in Seattle without being assaulted by products zealously labeled as: “Organic! Locally Sourced! Small-Batch, Artisanal, Bespoke, or Hand Crafted!”

And to be honest, many of these phrases reek of a little too much of cheap marketing cologne, and the overuse smells phony to me. Granted, much of the time here in Seattle (especially at reputable local restaurants, farmers markets, and co-ops) the catch phrases are more-or-less accurate. And if I’m being honest with myself, I know I’ll probably eat whatever is put in front of me, if it’s tasty enough. In that regard, I think of myself as a typical American consumer. Like many Seattleites, I try to eat healthy most of the time, but I love junk and fast food just as much as the next person. But after a splurge, I do end up feeling a bit guilty and gross afterwards.

My philosophy is everything in moderation. DH and I are generally pretty good during the week in terms of healthy eating (we try to make homemade meals with whole grains and green veggies like swiss chard and dino kale, etc.) but come the weekend and holidays, we indulge. But I can’t help but be a little skeptical when it comes to my weekly trip to a “regular” grocery store (like a Safeway or QFC/Kroger’s/Fred Meyer and not Whole Foods or our local co-op.) Especially when I see products prominently on display like this:

tostitos-artisan-baked-three-cheese-quesoI guess some of us still really want to believe that most of the food that we consume in this country as a result of the sprawling American industrial food complex isn’t mostly corn that’s been genetically-modified, artificially reconstituted, packaged, and mass-produced by cheap labor and machines. I haven’t seen the documentary Food, Inc. yet, but I know that many of these now-hackneyed catch phrases I’m complaining about are a direct result of what is so severely broken in our industrial food complex.

And what I’m seeing in Seattle (and in the greater Pacific NW) is probably an overreaction in the opposite direction. But don’t you also find it just a little bit hilarious and overdone? I know you’ve probably already seen this now infamous Portlandia clip, but it’s always worth another look.

I guess I’m suspicious of certain marketing terms I constantly see popping up too often and in a very odd context. It’s one thing to find these terms in your local farmers market. It’s another to find it at Dunkin’ Donuts (of which we are sadly—or luckily—bereft of here in Seattle, depending on your point of view…. Like I said, everything in moderation.) This clip from Lewis Black on the Daily Show pretty much sums up most of my suspicions regarding the current overuse of the word “artisanal.” My favorite line in the whole clip: “These people are pissing on our legs and telling us it’s champagne!”

Now there’s nothing wrong with the word “artisanal” but I just think that we’re abusing overusing it these days. Just the tiniest bit. I love Panera Bread. But is their bread really “artisan bread?” And the same goes for “handmade and small batch.” Seems to me that we are going a little overboard in a reactionary direction in our quest to return to basics, and to eat real, slow food.

I guess the moral of the story is that I’m sticking to my skepticism guns, and hoping that we don’t buy into the marketing hoopla filled with the catchphrases that the industrial food complex spews out. And I do admit that since moving back to Seattle, I can appreciate some of the granola and “eco-fanaticism” that takes place here. (Don’t get me started on the compost/recycle/garbage conundrum here.) The strong and pervasive culture of most people here is to strive towards conscious health, which I find to be a very good thing. So long as it’s in moderation.

And maybe I’ve also drunk some of the local, home brewed Kool-Aid myself as I’ve been tending to my own organic patch of Hood strawberries. I’m not saying I’m going to pick up gardening as a hardcore hobby, but there certainly is something satisfying about getting your hands dirty, and growing something you can actually eat.

But don’t take my word for it. Apparently our strawberries were good enough to steal last year, despite my complete ignorance of our patch:

This year, I dutifully weeded our small garden patch to try to tame our invasive mint plants, and I definitely think that the weeding helped the strawberry crop. And so I’ll conclude by leaving you with a photo of this year’s artisanal, homegrown, small-batch, organic, pesticide-free Hood Strawberries. Hand-weeded, picked and naturally ripened. No artificial chemicals. Just this American Taitai out in the rain with her hand spade.

Happy Friday!

Hood Strawberries att