"Artisan" Ceases to Have Meaning as McDonald's Rolls Out New Chicken Sandwich

Artisans abound at metro-area McDonald's.
Artisans abound at metro-area McDonald's.
File photo

It's official: the English language has finally ceased to function as a meaningful method of conveying ideas. The final death blow? McDonald's just hijacked the word "artisan" to describe its new line of grilled chicken creations that are rolling out at select outlets across the country today. You can swap out the standard McDonald's chicken for the new Artisan Grilled Chicken in its premium (another word that has been conscripted into dubious service) McWraps, deluxe (which hasn't meant anything since the 1950s) sandwiches, snack wraps and premium (enough, already) salads. There's also a new sandwich that's just lettuce, tomato and vinaigrette dressing along with the chicken on a roll that gets tagged as "artisan," too.

I double-checked the definition of "artisan" just to make sure that nobody had changed it recently to include frozen-food items cooked on a grill by minimum-wage employees, but verified that it still means something produced by a skilled craftsman in a traditional manner using high-quality ingredients. 

In a statement released on Friday, McDonald's executive chef Dan Coudreaut states, "Our new grilled chicken filet is prepared with the same ingredients people would find in their own pantries." And while the ingredients list (which can be found on the McDonald's website) for the chicken itself doesn't exactly read like Walter White's shopping list,  "vegetable starch" and "natural flavor (plant source)" don't strike me as something lurking in the typical American pantry. And the artisan bun that's part of the new sandwich couldn't possibly be made without the contributions of modern science, judging by the long list of chemistry-set ingredients. 

The new chicken is part of the company's efforts to modernize its menu to meet "changing preferences and expectations of today’s customers," according to McDonald's. Part of that includes sourcing chicken from producers (I almost wrote "farms" there) that aren't using certain kinds of antibiotics. But the company admits it will continue to rely on chicken raised with the use of ionophores, a type of antibiotic administered to cows to encourage faster body weight gain and to chickens as a preventative measure to help control microbial outbreaks. The use of preventative antibiotics in industrial agriculture has come under attack in recent years over concerns that it contributes to long-term antibiotic resistance in both human and animal disease-causing germs. The cool part of all of this is that without a coating of breading on the chicken breast, the subtle flavors of the ionophores really shine through. 

The fast-food world pummels us with phrases like "all-natural," "hand-crafted" and "fresh," words that shouldn't be ambiguous but shift like the salt at the bottom of a bag of fries from one burger giant to the next. Quibbling over the types of antibiotics used seems like simply a ploy to distract from the fact that there's no real way to provide fresh or naturally raised chicken on a McDonald-sized scale — it's still Big Chick.

While the scientific know-how to produce artisan chicken sandwiches for the masses no doubt requires years of education, dropping a frozen puck of poultry onto a hot surface and setting a timer is only marginally more artisan than microwaving your own popcorn at home — although even that requires a trained ear to know the exact moment when as many kernels as possible have popped before the whole bag goes up in smoke. 

We're fortunate here in Colorado to now be able to add McDonald's artisan chicken to the list of hand-crafted beers, bagels and bitters available from skilled craftsmen. "We listened to what our customers asked for, and took the time to get it right," notes Coudreaut. As a paying customer, you can step up to the counter knowing that you're ordering more than just a piece of chicken, you're ordering something that was honed to perfection by a dedicated master craftsman — one who probably spent countless minutes watching a training video in the break room.


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