Eating the Words
Is Anybody Telling the Truth?
If you have the scars from laboring under the discipline of chefs who are raging perfectionists and who worship at the altar of Escoffier, you are also burdened with the knowledge that good food and its preparation engages not only all of the senses but your intelligence as well.
Sure, I’ve been called a peevish sort in this regard, chiding those who tout their culinary accomplishments while tripping over basic form and technique. Former chefs and serious gourmands are like that.
But what really sears off my chops nowadays is the simple abuse of language when selling food. Not that I’m against anyone making a buck through puff and smoke marketing mind you, but some of the food modifiers out there are getting ridiculous.
Here’s one that gets tossed around a lot—artisan. Artisan breads, artisan cheeses, artisan wines, artisan gummy worms. Look, unless there’s a 6-foot robot cranking out the food stuffs in the kitchen or picking the grub down on the farm, by definition everything made by hand is artisan.
Yes, artisan sounds sophisticated when you’re ordering lunch, but really—this term will go down as one of the biggest marketing ruses in culinary history...like naming small, medium, and large coffees in Italian. While we’re at it, let’s add the terms “hand crafted” and “hand picked” as well. Wow. You’re kidding me, someone actually picked this apple?
Here’s another one for the books…baby. Whittled down carrots that don’t have the perfect dagger-like shape for the shelves at the market? Baby. Citrus yanked from maturation to escape an apocalyptic frost in Texas? Baby.
How about the term micro?
The last time I checked micro just meant really, really small. In the same vein, small batched means soon to be out of business. And farm-raised? Well, gee, I hope this delicious lamb chop was farm-raised because those city-raised lamb chops? Man, those were pretty tough.
Organic. (Hangs head, shakes it slowly from side to side.) Gee, this could take all day. Yes there are strict standards for organic products, but a lot of vendors play fast and loose with this term to move inventory.
It’s not like there’s an organic task force out there arresting people and throwing them in jail. Want to be a stick in the mud like me? The next time some market claims something is organic, press the staff for detailed information on how they know this exactly, where said product was grown, etc. Go ahead, I dare you, ask them if they know what a GMO is or how long a supplier has been using transitional farm products.
Nine times out of 10 they haven’t a clue where there produce comes from other than the loading dock. Wiggling loopholes in the standards, label requirements, and restrictions might shock you. Plus a large majority of our food stuffs in stores come from countries that could care less if they dumped battery acid on their fields to make something grow. If it makes a mighty stalk of celery and a gorgeous mango, so be it.
[Insert store name/advertising term] certified beef. Let’s be clear on this. PRIME, CHOICE, SELECT, STANDARD, UTILITY, CUTTER, CANNER (…and the last five you kind of want to avoid, trust me.) I don’t care if it is Scared Holy Cow Bessie, those are the USDA beef cuts and the rest is a bunch of malarkey.
It's a trecherous world out there in the food aisles, people. Shop smart.