9 Words the Food Industry Killed

As CHOW noted last week, Domino’s is mighty proud of its Artisan Pizzas, those pies so lovingly tarted up with vaguely exotic ingredients and presented in a box signed by the employee who made your particular pizza. Others have taken notice of the chain’s appropriation of artisan and wondered, perhaps superfluously, if this spells the death of the word. It's not the first time some big company has co-opted earnest food lingo for its own nefarious purposes. Sadly, artisan is in good company.

1. ARTISAN
Beloved not only by Domino’s but also by Starbucks, which slapped the word on its line of breakfast sandwiches; Burger King, which serves “artisan buns”; Sargento, which describes its bags of shredded cheese as “Artisan Blends”; Tostitos, which rolled out a line of “Artisan Recipes”; Wendy’s, which now makes an “Artisan Egg Sandwich” with “fresh cracked Grade A Eggs”; and Panera, which is no longer just the lesser of multiple evils at the average highway rest stop but “artisan fast food.”

2. LOCAL
When KFC can trumpet its dedication to the environment by using “local building materials” like concrete, something has gotten lost in translation. Likewise, when Frito-Lay advertises the “local” potatoes in its Fritos and Chipotle touts its use of produce grown within 350 miles of its restaurants, local ceases to be the provenance of farmers’ markets and backyard gardeners who plant heirloom seeds.

3. ORGANIC
Organic’s meaning all but died out long before artisan’s did, ushered into an early grave by everything from organic jelly beans to organic soft-baked cookies containing both organic sugar and organic “brown rice syrup.” The only thing truly organic where the processed-food industry is concerned is its desire to cash in on the trend, which is why big corporations now own so many organic brands.

4. GREEN
McDonald’s is “building green for the future” by using a “green building lab.” Sadly, this hasn’t done much in the way of reducing the enormous amount of trash McDonald’s generates, much less the massive carbon footprint of a single Big Mac. Likewise, Whole Foods’ supposedly green philosophy and business practices got a kick in the teeth after an ex-employee called them a “faux-hippy Wal-Mart” in an infamous resignation letter that accused the company, among other things, of questionable recycling practices and throwing out “enough food to feed a lot of hungry university students.” And then there was that unfortunate business with Monsanto.

5. NATURAL
Given that even high-fructose corn syrup can be defined as natural (key word: corn), the bar is set pretty low. The fact that an ingredient is natural is more or less negated by all of the unnatural things the scientists employed by big food companies do to it. Consider Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal, which contains neither blueberries nor pomegranates, or Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Blueberry Muffin, which uses “blueberry-flavored crunchlets.” And, of course, Snapple.

6. FARM
You might still think that farm is synonymous with a red barn, a couple of silos, and the CSA that brings you organic lacinato kale. Thanks to brands like Cascadian Farm (organic, but still owned by General Mills, the maker of Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal) and Morningstar Farms (owned by Kellogg and responsible for putting textured soy protein concentrate on your table), that isn’t exactly the case anymore.

7. “HAND” ANYTHING
To wit: Chipotle’s burrito, which the company’s website describes as “foil-wrapped, handcrafted, local farm supporting,” and “food culture changing.” Hardee’s uses “hand-scooped” ice cream (as opposed to, presumably, “foot-scooped”). Starbucks makes “handcrafted” Frappuccinos. Wendy’s shakes are “hand-spun.” And so on and so on and so on.

8. WHOLESOME
Starbucks describes its cupcakes and breakfast pastries as wholesome, since their ingredients can be found somewhere in nature. McDonald’s calls its execrable oatmeal a “bowl full of wholesome,” despite the fact that its “cream” contains seven ingredients, only two of which are dairy. The breakfast industry is the worst offender, assigning the adjective to things like Quaker’s sugar-filled Natural Granola Lowfat with Raisins (210 calories and 18 grams of sugar per 2/3 cup) and Honey Bunches of Oats’ Just Bunches (250 calories and 14 grams of sugar—including corn syrup—per 2/3 cup).

9. MOM
The food movement thinks of “mom” (and her close relative “grandma”) as that lady who taught you how to put up heirloom tomatoes for winter or passed along that brisket recipe that’s been in the family for untold generations. Fast-food companies, not so much. “Like you, moms everywhere want to know that they're providing quality, nutritious food to their families,” explains McDonald’s by way of introducing its Moms’ Quality Correspondents. These ladies represent “real families” and are shown on the website doing quality control on Happy Meals toys but not, oddly, on Happy Meals themselves.

Image source: Sargento Foods Inc.