Grant McCracken and the Rise of Artisanal Everything

You could say that Alice Waters made us more human than Steve Jobs, or even as revolutionary as Chairman Mao. It’s amazing to see the results of her 1971 creation of Berkeley’s tiny restaurant,” says an anthropologist. Grant McCracken. The artisanal revolution is a revolutionary new way of producing and consuming goods. The best of it is a cruel-free capitalism.

Steve Jobs, Mao, and…Alice Waters? Who are they exactly?

Let me get to it in a second, but let me first ask you one question.While you are hanging out on your hips, handmade loungewearSip your pot-still bourbonEnjoy homemade food, Sourdough bread covered with butter you churned yourself from your neighbor’s stash of unpasteurized goat milk, did you ever stop to wonder just how you—and America writ large—got to a place where Wonder Bread is a shorthand for all that is terrible and mediocre and any sort of super-rustic, craggy, unsliced, dense, dark loaf of barely processed grain is a sign not just of cultural sophistication but of moral superiority? 

Only a generation or two ago—for our parents and grandparents—the cutting edge of consumption was to buy the most industrial, machine-made products you could afford, preferably objects that had never been touched by human hands and carried a brand insignia that conveyed high status or value. The dream of even white collar jobs was to be exactly like everyone and work for an organization that was larger than the marketplace and could thus guarantee you a job throughout your life. You would go to heaven and die if your job was as an IBM salesman. All of them wore black suits, blue shirts, red tie, and white shoes.

We now live in an age of artisanal craftsmanship, with everything being small-batch and highly personalized. Since decades or even decades ago, this revolution has been transforming the world around us. Not only is it influencing what we wear and eat but also how we work and live and how our identities are formed. Individualization is in, while mass production (including of personality and social types) is out.

The Artisan returns, anthropologist Grant McCracken explains “how America went from industrial to handmade” in the post–World War II era. The book is funny and insightful, with well-written chapters that take us from New York City all the way to Berkeley in California. Alice Waters lives there. She opened Chez Panisse, a new revolutionary restaurant that changed the face of dining.

There’s no better guide to this brave new—and sometimes incredibly annoying—world than McCracken, a Baby Boomer raised in British Columbia during the 1960s and an early theorist of how the digital revolution and rise of the internet were remaking us in ways that are mostly better but also deeply challenging to community. He has a long, strange life that is almost as bizarre as his journal. The Artisan returns.

Previous There are reasonsGrant McCracken interviews and articles

Is America too forgiving? Lance Armstrong: The Case,” February 20, 2021

“Grant McCracken, The New Honor Code. Radical Wokeism,” February 3, 2020

Dec 2012: “How to Have a Great Idea” December 2012.

“How Cultural Innovation Happens: Q&A with Anthropologist Grant McCracken,” June 7, 2011

“The Politics of Plenitude”, August/September 1998

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