Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an “artisan” as “a worker who practices a trade or handicraft” and “one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods.”
Domino’s Pizza defines it as “putting spinach and feta cheese on a mass-produced pizza.”
Grub Street has an in-depth look at the downfall the term “artisan” as big food companies have co-opted it for their own use. They mark Artisanal’s New York Times review in 2001 as the term’s peak. And its official demise? The debut of Burger King’s “artisan bun” (which “draws its inspiration from brioche), close on the heels of Domino’s unveiling of their ‘artisan’ pizza line earlier this year.
The increasing use of the term “artisan” to describe products that in no way adhere to the defined meaning of the term is just another example of a seemingly unstoppable cultural dynamic – the continual appropriation of meaningful words by powerful commercial entities who strip them of meaning by using them to sell products completely divorced from the reality, the definition, of those words. (It’s kind of like the semantic version of watching a four year-old rip toys out of the hands of a two year old.)
This happens so frequently that it becomes a sort of semantic spectator sport – “Here comes a new one! ‘Gourmet,’ ‘Natural,’ ‘Farm fresh,’ ‘Artisan’…Aaaand there they go! Slapped on the packaging for yogurt made with milk powder from China. Gone! So what’s next? Anyone seeing any blips on the radar?