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Chef Lidia Bastianich: Artisan movement is creating job opportunities

From craft breweries to artisanal cheeses and locally-sourced produce, the food industry is constantly evolving, and Americans today are choosing healthier, hand-crafted foods over what’s quick and convenient.

Specialty food outpaced the growth of all retail food last year, growing 10.3% versus just 3.1% for the overall space. Sales reached an eye-popping $148.7 billion. It’s a booming business and the trend is changing not just the products shoppers see on shelves and in menu selections, but also the types of jobs available in the industry.

For her upcoming PBS special, "Lidia Celebrates America: The Return of the Artisans," chef, author, TV host and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich traveled across the U.S. talking to men and women who work in food-related trades like meat curing, coopering, copper smithing and jam making. Bastianich noticed a common theme along her travels: There is a tremendous opportunity for young people to find good jobs and learn new skills.

“It's an opportunity for youngsters, young people, white collar, blue collar, [those] that don't have an opportunity always to go to school,” she told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move. “It's going into a mentorship program, learning your job, learning it with your own hand, and really making it your own.”

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 28: Chef Lidia Bastianich talks during the Austin FOOD & WINE Festival at Auditorium Shores on April 28, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)

Bastianich, who has won seven James Beard awards and two Emmys, said it goes beyond the job opportunities. These small businesses and the people working the trades develop a sense of community and belonging for craftspeople who master skills.

But it’s not a new concept Bastianich points out. “I'm in the food industry about 50 years, born in Italy. So I was very much in with the artisans, in a sense mentors—people that teach younger people how to do things,” she said. “And I think that, you know, maybe here in America, we should really look ever more at it.”

People just want good food

That’s because consumer demand is there for these trades to continue to grow. “People are conscious of good food, healthy food, food that is raised properly, and they are willing to pay that money,” said Bastianich. 

As for the next trend in the food business, Bastianich said “super service” is becoming less of a priority.

“I think less and less people are looking to be waited upon, served upon, whatever,” she said. “They're willing to get their food as long as it is good, healthy, produced well.”

Joanna Campione is a producer with Yahoo Finance.

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