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Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

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 Bell?

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 daily basis.

"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 does.

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 any.

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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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