Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763
Like being stabbed through the heart with a three-tined plastic spoon
"Mom," said my son, poking through our cutlery drawer. "Where are the
sporks?" It was like being stabbed through the heart with a three-tined
plastic spoon. Sporks in my home? Where does he think we live, Taco
But to my son, sporks are just a normal part of life, like shoes that
Velcro shut and yogurt you suck from a tube.
You'll find these plastic spoon/fork hybrids in any school cafeteria:
Spoon + fork = spork. Or maybe it's Spock + Mork = spork. Either way,
fast-food enthusiasts, jailed felons and public school kids spork on a
"The spork is the only true American utensil," says John Nihoff, a
professor of gastronomy (now there's a job) at the Culinary Institute of
America. The spork is America's answer to flatware, just as the nugget
is our answer to chicken cordon bleu.
However popular it is becoming, the spork's origins remain obscure.
Did occupying Yanks give them to the Japanese after World War II in
an effort to stamp out chopsticks? Some say they did. Or was the spork
spawned as compact camping cutlery? That's another theory out there.
Either way, the spork didn't really pierce the public's consciousness
until 1970, when Kentucky Fried Chicken started using them as it still
You'll recall, however, that the colonel's chicken was never advertised
as "spork-lickin' good." From the beginning, the spork got no respect,
and flatware historian Barbara Bloemink knows why: It doesn't deserve
Humans developed cutlery, and cutlery developed humans, says
Bloemink. Using ever-more-complex utensils, we developed as
civilized beings. "Cutlery was started so that people didn't tear food out
of each other's hands," she says. "It was all about portion control." Once
you could slice off a piece of mammoth, you didn't have to yank it off
like a wild animal. That's progress.
After knives came even more civilizing spoons. Then, in the 1500s,
Catherine DeMedici moved from Italy to France, bringing with her that
newfangled fad, the fork. It caught on among royals, and pretty soon
everyone who was anyone could eat without using the fists. "It became
a sign of class if you understood how to use cutlery," Bloemink says.
It still is. Go into any fancy restaurant today, and you'll see a phalanx of
excess silverware silently threatening, "Lowlifes, beware!"
As bewildering as that battery is, replacing it all with the spork is not
the answer. Abandoning forks and spoons because we've got the spork
is like abandoning reading because we've got TV.
But by promoting spork culture in prison and school the very
institutions where we're trying hardest to civilize the inhabitants we
are lurching backward.
Plus, have you ever tried to actually eat with a spork? It's like eating
soup with a fork, or steak with a spoon. Only harder.
It is time to stick a fork in the spork.
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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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