Authenti-seekers

The first rule of researching social trends is to throw out Vogue and GQ and get some subscriptions to the trade magazines. According to a survey conducted by those style mavens on The Grocer, the demand for home bread-makers is rising faster than a loaf in a hot oven -from sales of 33,700 in 1997 to 445,000 in 2001 alone, a more than tenfold increase in just four years.

What can it mean? When the survey was published, journalists searching for a kindly gloss on the story conspired to make it a symbol of the British male’s transition from breadwinner to breadmaker: men, after all, buy a quarter of all breadmakers sold in Britain.

But that was wide of the mark. What the rise of the great British breadmaker signifies is the premium which many of us have begun to place on naturalness, on how goods are made and where they come from. Authenticity is the new luxury, and buying a home breadmaker is the first rung on the ladder to acceptability among the faithful.

At the Henley Centre, a marketing consultancy, they have invented a name for the new breed. “Authenti-seekers”, say the marketing brains at Henley, are those well-to-do professionals who invest time and money in researching the provenance and pedigree of what they consume. A taste for organic food is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the badge of authenti-seeker.

But they are less interested in ethics that connoisseurship -what is crucial to authenti-seekers is not only how a good is produced but where, and with what raw materials. And for mass-market manufacturers, this group’s needs have come to represent a lucrative new niche.

Among authenti-seekers, for example, there is a good deal of snob value in knowing not only that the wine that they buy hails from a particular region of France but also from a particular estate in the area. They are also the reason why knitting is making a spectacular comeback among the moneyed classes. Vogue now boasts its own knitting magazine. Stars such as Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz and Roseanne reputedly get together for so-called “stitch ‘n’ bitch” sessions.

Good luck to them. But the problem with all this rootsy quest for the familiar is that it is something of a mirage. There is precious little earthiness to be had baking your bread in a consumer gadget -even the dough bought by the home baker has to be mass-produced, as does the breadmaker itself.

What the seeker after authenticity fears most of all, it seems, is throwing in his lot with the rest of society. The home breadmaker is simply determined not to put his trust in his local baker, and instead resorts to doing all the work and the research himself. For the authenti-seeker, the 20th century happened almost entirely in vain.

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