Monday 30 May 2016

Why We Should be Concerned About 'Artisan' Food

Not made in a factory - made in my kitchen
I'm just about at the end of my tether with the way big food producers stretch the truth. We forgive, don't we, the superlatives of mass marketing that sweep us unthinkingly into buying big-branded products. We're not stupid: we sort of know that the stuff that comes out of factories isn't as wholesome as the country-kitchen, fake-farm names suggest. And there are rules about advertising standards that protect us from over-inflated claims aren't there?

My tether's been strained to breaking point though after the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) failed to find anything wrong with the claim that bread made with, what amounts to, sourdough flavouring powder can be fairly labelled as sourdough and as an artisan product. 

The Real Bread Campaign made a formal complaint to the ASA after an additive manufacturer encouraged bakers to  ' enter this lucrative [artisan] market without the need to invest in specialist staff...', this was in their advertising literature.

So, no need for the skills of an artisan baker then? If there was any doubt, they go on to reassure prospective purchasers that they don't need the any specialist knowledge to bake sourdough either, saying: ' learning needed on pH and acidity.’

The ASA took the view that because this advertisement was aimed at the baking industry no consumers of bread were likely to be misled. 

What appears to be at stake here is the definition of artisan and of sourdough. 

Am I worrying too much about this? Surely if consumers want to buy artisan-style sourdough-esque bread in a supermarket they should be entitled to squint a bit, look the other way and not worry too much about the provenience of their loaf so long as it looks and tastes ok? 

What matters

It would be all well and good if the buying public were not already onto the trail of research showing that sourdough and other long fermented breads are a bit special. Scientists have found that in long-fermented breads gluten molecules are changed making them less likely to cause unpleasant gastric upsets. 

There is a growing body of people seeking out sourdough and long fermented breads - the sort you might get from an artisan baker - on the strength that it might not give them stomach cramps and the you-know-whats. 

Suddenly the ability to know exactly what you are buying matters. A lot. 

What to do 

It seems we can't trust the food 'industry' to be completely up front about what we are buying - you should try asking a supermarket bakery counter operative (#notabaker) how long their bread was fermented for, for example. Equally the ASA are understandably fussy about their remit and the requirements of evidence.

It's no wonder that the Real Bread Campaign has titled its campaign for more openness in food labelling as striving for an Honest Crust Act.

Here's how to help make sure we don't get conned when we buy our bread (or for that matter other artisan labelled products)

- buy a baker you can look in the eyes and ask searching questions of.

- join the Real Bread Campaign and support its campaigning work

- lobby your MP (or other elected politician if you aren't in the UK)

- keep an eye out for misleading artisan-ads and send them to the Real Bread Campaign

Ultimately, trust your gut instincts. There are few shortcuts to good food, whether we know how scientifically special something is or not. Usually the enjoyment and nourishment we experience is a reflection of the skill, time and effort that went into making it. 

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