I heard a story on NPR yesterday about the growing trend of “artisan” foods, which they explained is one of the biggest trends in today’s food industry. The example they point to is a new gelato shop in Washington, D.C. which sources its primary ingredients from cows and chickens on an organic, pasture-raised farm in Pennsylvania. The owner of the shop sums up the idea behind artisan foods as creating a product “that is simple and wholesome, without any chemicals, based wholly on the strength of its ingredients.” Artisan or not, this, to me, defines quite simply “good” food. Any chef will tell you that a dish is only as good as its ingredients: if the ingredients are old or of poor quality, combining them together in a dish is not going to enhance their flavors or textures at all.
But there’s also the factor of price to consider. Artisan, organic, and other specialty foods cost more than their non-artisnal, non-organic counterparts. And as the owner of the gelato shop contends, “that’s the real cost of real food.” It’s true! But unfortunately this gives off the impression that “real” food is elitist, only affordable for the well-to-do. Joel Salatin, local owner of Polyface Farm, in an interview with Michael Pollan, explains “whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy […] all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water–of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap.” So, more of the money goes directly back to the farmer to support their business! 97 cents of every food dollar for packaged foods do not make it back to the farmers who grew those ingredients thanks to marketing and transportation costs, as well as pesticides and other hidden costs.
My question to you today is, what are the “artisan” foods for which you are willing to spend a little bit more money to insure the quality of the ingredients and thus the overall product? The salmonella egg fiasco has shown us how devastating poor-quality ingredients can be. Maybe you already purchase (or make) artisan products–which ones? If you don’t, and could spend a little bit extra for just one high-quality food item each week, what would it be? Use the poll below to cast your vote!