August 1st, Day 44: Niagara Falls, NY to Rochester NY: 87 miles, 1936 ft. ascent

Today’s ride was pleasant and fast. Good roads, a slight tail wind and not too many hills. So we rattled along at 18.4 mph. But James is developing a slightly worrying pain in his left thigh. He spent the final 2 hours of the ride calling a score between 6 and 8 on the Pain Register, interspersed with the sort of swearing you’d expect from a bunch of sailors not an aspiring academic.

Now we are back in our room he is being a typical man, saying it will all be fine in the morning. Meanwhile, I’m trying to do a passable impression of my wife, expressing concern and sympathy, while suggesting sensible things like heat, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs and gentle massage. Although I think I’m getting most of the words right, there’s something slightly off-key in the tone of voice; probably because my inner man is just dying to agree with James that it’ll be fine in the morning, it’s only pain and I’m sure he’s the sort of guy who can just suck it up.

But seriously, we think he may have torn a muscle and we are going to take it easy for the next two days, hoping it gets better not worse before the steep hills in Vermont.

It was nice to get back on to rural roads today after 2 nights in Niagara, lots of concrete, lots of cars and lots of fast food chains. The latter, along with their outrageous marketing slogans, got me thinking about artisanal food vs mass production.

As technology de-skills or entirely eradicates whole swathes of the employment landscape, artisan job choices seem increasingly appealing. Consumer willingness to pay more for artisanal products has created an opportunity for new entrants into traditional crafts. It has become fashionable to produce stuff via inefficient processes with deliberately rough edges, irregular shapes and inconsistent sizes. The more rustic a product appears, the more people appear willing to pay.

One example of this taste for the artisanal, for which I have been very grateful on this trip, has been the maturing of the micro-brewery sector. There are now over 5,000 breweries in the US compared to only 1,500 10 years ago. Even in the smallest of towns on our ride Booze Alan has often been able to sniff out a brewery producing passable Adult Beverages.

I am all in favour of this artisanal trend, particularly with respect to food and drink. Mass produced food costs less than most citizens of the US and Europe can readily afford, with the consequence that most of us eat too much. If we revert to paying more for small scale production we will provide job satisfaction for more people, we will maybe even eat less, and there will be genuine product choice, rather than 15 differently named things that all taste exactly the same.

Unfortunately, major brands have latched on to the term artisan, and are using it indiscriminately to add an exotic feel to an entirely mass produced item. Here is a classic example from McDonald's' website:

“Our Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich is made with 100% chicken breast filet that is perfectly marinated.”

There is so much wrong with this short sentence. Was the sandwich seriously grilled by artisans? What exactly is the justification for claiming the marination to be perfect? And qualifying the breast filet as being 100% chicken sounds more like an implicit indictment of McDonald's' other products, rather than a true recommendation for this recent addition to their menu.

OK, rant over, here are a couple of cool photos from Niagara courtesy of Marty Stabler.

The skyscrapers on the Canadian side of the falls are silhouetted by the setting sun. We view them from the US side, over the fast streaming falls.

A black and white photo of the falls. The US falls are seen on the left and the horseshoe falls are seen in the distance.