Artisanal Sno-Cones

This morning on the Ricochet podcast we were talking about the signifiers that bind the members of the media together – the emblems of class and tribe one can reasonably expect from a middle-aged J-school grad. For some reason I thought of a New York Times piece on summer treats. Like popsicles, and how they can be ruined with a light glaze of faddish pretension.

Popsicles were once a a simple thing, with simple rules: the bag stuck to the treat, but yielded when you pulled. The popsicle could be cleaved on a metal porch railing, a countertop, or cracked with brute force. Sometimes it broke wrong; that was life. Banana was rare and highly prized. The last few bites always tasted of wood. That was enough, no? No: they’ll be ruined right after Sno-Cones. From the New York Times:

“American food lovers, who seem to be re-examining every humble snack — beef jerky, pretzels, soft-serve — for artisanal potential, are now turning their attention to shaved ice. They are abandoning the Day-Glo aesthetic and fake flavors that they grew up with in favor of the true colors of summer fruit.”

 As usual, “they” probably means the author’s friends, quickly followed by people who read the Times’ Style section as a guide to life instead of a sociological equivalent of an Economist story on Uruguay politics.

The word “artisanal” is the grandson of “gourmet,” which was an all-purpose prefix in the 80s: jelly beans and dog biscuits and hand-glazed Cracker Jack nodules. It had a cheap gilded Trump-like connotation – instant class! Just add 15% to the cost. Artisanal isn’t enough, though. Oh, it’s good – but things must also be Sustainable. A menu my daughter brought home from a San Francisco bakery a menu that reassured patrons their store was built with sustainable lumber, lest anyone worry that their cake was being eaten under timbers harvested by people who weren’t thinking seven generations into the future.

Unsustainable dessert stores will only hasten the death of the planet, and future cakeless generations will curse us bitterly. But if a store promises it sustains, you can be guaranteed that some offerings will be artisanal. It’s meant to suggest that skilled popsicle craftsman bring years of experience to their job, working in humble sun-splashed studios with David-Byrne-approved 3rd world music on the stereo, gently shaving the skin of a blueberry to extract the essence, hand-planing the stick (sustainably grown) with recycled sandpaper, then adding a drop of peasant-harvested, shade-grown honey, as they were taught when they studied Organic Popsicles from a wise old lady, preferably in a barrio.

Many readers, over the years, have come to weary of the artisanal snow-cone story, and feel as though they’re somehow a lesser person, a gustatory philistine, for not caring about artisanal snow-cone stories. They’re not of the tribe. But if anyone gives you trouble for having a mass-produced popsicle, nod sagely, and tell them it’s “Quiescently frozen.” Might keep them off your back, at least until they look it up.