Will the Real Artisans Please Stand?

FromMSN Bites on Today: a controversy over artisanal bagels has me wondering: should any food be called artisanal?  What the food producers and chefs in this article seem to suggest is that artisanal = handmade from scratch.  Really?  Is food art?

Just because a trained chef makes the dough from scratch and puts it in the oven and cares does not an artisanal bagel make.  Does not an artisanal anything make.  It’s a bagel.  Maybe it’s a really good bagel.  Maybe it’s the best bagel in the world.  But is the person who made it an artisan?

What if the chef studied for years at CIA?

What if she ground the wheat herself using an ancient mill?

What if she hand packs the bagels in decorative bags?

This article contains several troubling definitions.  One producer says, “Your process is what’s artisan, not your flavor. There’s no such thing as an artisan recipe. It’s related to the actual, physical process.”  So the process of making the bagel is what’s art, not the final product?

Or what about this definition from Dave Taiclet from Fanny May: “The reason why we believe we have permission to call it artisan (is that) it is something uniquely different than anything we’ve ever done in our history.”  First, it’s interesting that they believe they need permission from anyone to use the word artisanal.  Second, since when does artisanal mean first of its kind?

I agree with Jillian Eugenios, the writer of this article, who suggests that the term artisanal has lost its meaning.  Artisanal is a dead metaphor.  No one understands what it means because no one understands what it means to be an artisan.  We do not value true artisans or artists.  And frankly, when bagel makers make a fuss over an identity they co-opted from weavers and glass makers and potters, one has to wonder about the state of art and craft in the world today.  Why aren’t the real artisans guarding their territory?

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