So far in life, I have never had to suffer through a so-called "formal meal." I've never had to know my salad fork from my dessert fork, my soup spoon from my whatever-the-hell-the-other-spoon-is-used-for.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.
I do, however, have passable table manners, with the possible exception of one Thanksgiving at the in-laws' when, in a dozy trance from a combination of wine and tryptophan, I burped, said "There's some room," and went back to eating. A minor incident, to be sure.
Manners are a subjective thing from culture to culture, as are eating utensils and the way they're used.
From the noble fork and knife to the princely spoon, we are used to a fairly familiar line-up of utensils next to our dinner plates, but as we are exposed to other culinary cultures, the tools used to shift food from plate to mouth expand.
Here are some of my favorite eating utensils.
What the hell, KFC? You guys used to be the king of the spork.
Half spoon, half fork: all business.
The spork is not only hilarious but also somewhat useful. Good for scooping, good for stabbing, and wonderful for scraping up the few lines of mashed potatoes and gravy that cling to the angular crevasses of KFC to-go containers
More sporks, please. The world doesn't have enough sporks.
Pure sugar. With some color. And a little flavor.
And a bigass candy stick to eat it with? Fun Dip is aptly named, though if they wanted full disclosure in their candy's name, it would be called "Diabetes and Hyperactivity Sugar-High Dip."
Still, as a utensil, the Lick-a-Stix provides a depth of usefulness not found in other utensils. There's no clean-up, really. You don't have to wash it and put it away afterward. You just have to eat. Then eat some more. Then get a stomach ache.
In fact, if you think about it, Fun Dip was way ahead of the whole eco-friendly, biodegradable, edible, disposable utensils trend. Where is their goddamn Nobel Prize, I ask?
3- The Straw
Technically speaking, this is a drinking utensil, but I still think it qualifies. What's more fun than sucking down a shake with a big, silly swirly straw? Not much. Maybe beach volleyball.
Also, the sound that a straw makes when removing last few drops of shake from the bottom of the glass is great. It reminds me of the Japanese tradition of loudly slurping noodles. The louder you slurp, the more honor and praise you ladle upon the chef, as the sound denotes how much you are enjoying your noodles.
Exactly like drinking the end of your milkshake. Let everybody know how much you are enjoying yourself, decorum be damned.
So incredibly useful. Living in Asia for a year made me favor chopsticks over conventional utensils. Once mastered, chopsticks are a very efficient, delicate and refined way to eat. You can't exactly shovel your food down with chopsticks, short of holding the bowl to your mouth.
You can also get Star Wars chopsticks. They are tiny little lightsabers that you can eat with. Obviously, they lack the necessary Agedan crystals to make them deadly weapons. Still pretty cool, though.
The human hand is a marvel of evolution. Out of the 206 bones in adult humans, 27 of them are in your hand. Your delicate network of bones, ligaments and tendons are the ultimate tool for consumption. Add in the advantage of the opposable thumb for grabbing and holding, and you have yourself a serious weapon of mass consumption.
The human hand is the maker, the tool which wrought all other tools. Eating with your hands is frowned upon in certain cultures and encouraged in others.
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In the Middle East, one only uses their right hand for eating. The left hand is the dirty hand.
I'm guessing there aren't a lot of High Tens in conservative Arabic culture. They are sort of stuck with the High Five by divine intervention. Too bad.