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Artisan, Artisahn, tomato, tomatoh- Why language matters more when discussing life and death.

When we started working on the database at Foodtree, we discussed sources and products. Realizing that the word product makes it easy to detach ourselves from food, we now have a “product swear jar.” While I’ll avoid boring you with the linguistic determinism of Jacques Derrida, suffice to say that language matters. Yes, there is a debate about exactly how much meaning is conferred by language alone, but the science is beginning to corroborate the philosophical evidence. There are far too many food and wine businesses marketing themselves as organic, local, artisan, and natural when they really aren’t. For example, “artisan.” Wikipedia describes, “an artisan (from Italian: artigiano) is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, household items, and tools. The term can also be used as an adjective to refer to the craft of hand making food products, such as bread, beverages and cheese.” Take particular note of the word craft when referring to foodstuffs (I do take umbrage with the use of products here). Craft is a skill, especially in practical arts. It is often a trade. It is not a commodity. If you have taken steps towards factory-style methods, industrialization or commodification, your products (yes, products) are not artisan.

I’ll refrain from calling out those of you who engage in marketing b.s. and highlight a few people doing things properly: Nick Schade makes beautiful kayaks; Three artisan winemakers ; and Silvio who makes cheese in the Langhe hills of Piemonte from the breed of autochthonous sheep he raises in his own pastures

We aren’t talking about color specificity or semantic games, but actually how we communicate and understand food. Food is a human requirement. No food=death. While it might seem cute or artistic license or even clever, using language to obfuscate the truth about a basic human necessity is wrong.

And thinking of food as merely a product is the beginning of a great disservice, of commodification, and the loss of our very humanity.

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