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10 Common Food Terms That Have Lost All Meaning

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Fancy some sustainable, artisan chicken with a side of seasonal, gourmet greens?

Such buzzwords have proliferated on menus across the country. And while words like "local" and "authentic" maybe once meant something, they've been so overused that their meanings have become diluted. In addition to overuse, these terms have also been co-opted by large food corporations. These companies casually throw adjectives like "natural" on their products in hopes that more people will purchase these still industrially-produced items.

Here are 10 common food terms that have lost all meaning:

  • 1
    Artisan/Artisanal
    Domino's
    Perhaps there was a time that "artisanal" meant crafted by hand, in small batches, without the use of industrial equipment. But let's just all agree that that time is over, proven perhaps when Domino's launched its artisanal pizza or Burger King launched its artisan bun.
  • 2
    Local
    Shutterstock
    The definition of "local" has always be subject to interpretation -- does it mean the food only came from 10 miles away? 50? 100? 500? While provenance is certainly important, "local" is not necessarily a synonym for "quality."
  • 3
    Natural
    Not quite sure how to define "natural?" That's because it really doesn't have an accepted definition, at least when it comes to food. So yes, even something like Cheetos can be all-natural.
  • 4
    Farm-To-Table
    At a recent panel discussion, Mario Batali made his thoughts known about the farm-to-table movement. "Where the f*** does it go if it doesn't go from the farm to the table," he asked. After all, giant factory operations are farms, too. Just ask McDonald's.
  • 5
    Authentic
    WASHUUGENIUS/FLICKR
    Food writers love to debate what "authentic" actually means. And while such a conversation can no doubt last hours, there's probably one thing everyone can agree on. There's a good chance that putting "authentic" on a menu probably means that the food is decidedly not.
  • 6
    Gourmet
    Shutterstock
    Shopped in the past decade? You probably noticed the onslaught of items like "gourmet muffins" and "gourmet cheese." You know what the different between gourmet muffins and plain ole regular muffins? Nothing.
  • 7
    New American
    Getty
    Did another New American restaurant open in your city? Is it serving playful adaptations of classic recipes? Yeah, we don't really know what that means either, except that there is a good chance Edison lightbulbs might be present. And braised short ribs.
  • 8
    Modern
    Getty
    How do you update food to make it more "modern?" Do you serve it with a kale salad? Add a fried egg? Put some foam on top? Anything can be modern... if you just call it that.
  • 9
    Fusion
    gtrwndr87/Flickr
    It feels like nearly every restaurant has some element of fusion cuisine these days -- from a Jewish-Japanese hybrid to Cuban-Chinese food. And that's a great thing when various ethnic cuisines can intermingle and create something new and delicious. But since so many restaurants use Asian influence or Latin flavors to complement their cuisine, it just isn't fusion anymore. It's merely status quo.
  • 10
    Sustainable
    Getty
    Most everyone can get behind the idea of sustainable food -- why would one want to harm the environment if you can avoid it? But sustainability can be a hard thing to quantify and an even harder term to prove. Still, if it appears on a menu, at least people can assuage their consciences by convincing themselves they are eating something "right."

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