Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Defining the Artisanal Movement

From anthropologist Grant McCracken comes this really insightful blog article about why the artisanal food movement is being so strongly embraced. He identifies and elaborates on the following 10 cultural components:

1. a preference for things that are human scale.
2. a preference for things that are hand made.
3. a preference for things that are relatively raw and untransformed.
4. a preference for things that are unbranded.
5. a preference for things that are personalized.
6. a preference for a new transparency
7. a preference for things that are "authentic"
8. a preference for things that have been marked by locality
9. a preference for the new connoisseurship
10. a preference for the simplified
The explanations of each of these components are well worth a read. For example:

4. a preference for things that are unbranded.

This is really an odd one for we are still a culture that treats brands as navigational devices in a turbulent culture. But now cheese from a farmer's market is better for the fact that it is not branded. This too takes as full circle, for in 18th and 19th century America, consumers were buying from barrels. Brands came in as a welcome innovation.

It turns out that Marx was right. (Finally.) The meaning of the object comes from the act of manufacture, not the act of marketing and consumption. And now I have a lovely bridge I'd like to sell you. For the artisinal movement is yet another act of meaning manufacture, driven perhaps by new enthusiasms but shaped at every step by marketing. For starters, this thing we call artisanal production almost certainly relies on mechanics, scale, and artifice. The "artisanal" is yet another cultural meaning that marketers assign to goods.

And later on, in #8, he points out that locality has essentially become the new branding. Which, if you've ever seen a high end restaurant menu, should come as no big surprise.

(Thanks to Solomon at Dry Goods Notes for the link.)

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