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A brief history of the spork

Posted Feb 13 2009 4:29pm
I'm traveling for work, and I just got back from a reception that was all finger food- even some items that probably shouldn't have been.

And so, just for fun, I thought I would post a brief history of eating utensils from Mental Floss.

The first utensils were chopsticks, designed due to a change in cooking practices resulting from a lack of firewood. To save wood, the Chinese began chopping up their meat and vegetables into small pieces, thus creating the first stir-fry.

No wood for fires also meant no wood for tables, so in order to eat, people had to be able to hold their food bowl while eating with the other hand. An expert chopsticks user could pick up small bits of meat,vegetables, and rice without ever touching the utensils to his or her lips—making the chopsticks more sanitary and pleasing to even the most fastidious of diners.

Among other things, spoons predated forks, and likely originated from shells found in Southern Europe, as both the Greek and Latin word for spoon is cochlea, a snail shell.

Despite the difference of materials, it’s highly probable that the Anglo spoon was influenced by the Southern European version. The Romans designed two spoons in the first century CE: (1) a ligula, which sported a pointed oval bowl and decorative handle, for soups and soft foods and (2) a cochleare, a small spoon with a round bowl and pointed handle, for shellfish and eggs. When the Romans occupied Britain (43 CE to 410 CE), they likely brought their cutlery, inspiring the English design.

Then we have the fantastic fork, the most recent of the big three utensils.

Sure, forks are handy, but they were once counted as the most scandalous of utensils. One legend tells that the fork got its start in Europe during the superstitious Middle Ages. In the 11 th century, a Byzantium princess flouted her delicate, two-tined golden fork at her wedding to Domenico Selvo, son of the Venetian Doge. The Venetian clergy had clearly stated their position on the subject: God provided humans with natural forks (i.e., fingers) and it was an insult to his design to use a metal version. Moreover, fork use represented “excessive delicacy,” which was apparently very bad. When the princess died shortly after her wedding, people didn ’t look to natural causes (or even fork injury). They assumed the death must be divine punishment.

Somehow, fork use still spread through Europe over the next 500 years, and despite the wishes of the clergy, it was considered an Italian affectation in Northern Europe. Part of the bad rap came from, again, the prissy factor. Although the fork’s functional value is similar to a spoon nowadays, the first forks originally evolved from the knife. Aristocrats would use one knife to cut the food and a second to spear and eat it. The two- and four-pronged knife substitutes must have looked as overwrought as a double-layer dinner fork would seem to us today.

And lest we forget, the most important spork:

Ah, the spork. Our favorite utensil—perfect for scooping up ice cream and spearing pie without dirtying extra cutlery. As its name indicates, the spork is half-spoon, half-fork, and while America was clearly behind on the other cutlery trends, the spork is a true American eating utensil. First mentioned by name in a 1909 supply catalogue, the spork achieved notoriety through another American original—Kentucky Fried Chicken. Back in 1970, KFC started including plastic sporks with their meals as a cheap convenience, and the Van Brode Milling Company of Massachusetts patented the invention for their “combination plastic spoon, fork, and knife” the same year. Due to its handy nature, the spork eventually became a common dessert and travel utensil, available in silver and other metals.

Considering how much time we probably spend obsessing about food, at least this can let us pause for a minute and think about all of the different utensils that help us eat.
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