Sometimes, it looks like we take our utensils for granted. It seems that the knife and the fork and the spoon have always been there, waiting for us to use them to bring precious sustenance closer to our mouth. By doing so, we keep ourselves from starving, and depending on the level of skill of the person preparing said sustenance, as well as the quality of ingredients, we also might actually enjoy the whole process of feeding ourselves. And once the meal is done, the same utensils would still be there, waiting for us to clean them so that they can be used over and over again.
The knife, the fork and the spoon have in fact been around for a long time, but their use as we know it today came about in Europe. Different countries adapted the use of each utensil at a different pace, but by the end of 18th century, most of the continent was using utensils that very much resembled those we use today. Of course, European countries being the colonial powers they were in those days, they have spread their cultural influence well beyond the borders of the Old World. That’s why today, a place setting of knife, fork, and spoon is something that can be found in every part of the world – even if the population of the country generally uses different utensils, there will always be restaurants that use flatware sets.
In Asia, however, eating utensils are very much different because the food culture there is different than in Europe. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam have chopsticks as their traditional utensil. In China, chopsticks were used well before AD, which means the Chinese would, even then, cut their food into manageable pieces before preparing it. Some say it’s because it was more energy efficient to prepare it that way instead of in large chunks, and there’s also the fact they believed it was not particularly civilized for the food to resemble the animal it came from. So, the knife was very much in existence and in use in China to cut up food, but it’s just that it wasn’t used for eating with it. As Asian cuisine became popular in the rest of the world, more and more people became acquainted with chopsticks as the utensil to be used to eat it.
But even older than the chopstick, and still widely used around the world is – the hand and the fingers. Yes, before we, as a species, started developing utensils, our hands were pretty much all we had. They have served us well, and in India and Ethiopia, people eat with their hands to this day. Well, not only with their hands – both countries have their own types of flatbread that are used to scoop up food and then bring it to the mouth, but the point remains that for a very large part of the world, the preferred utensil is the one people are born with.
From high quality flatware sets of Aava, to simple bamboo chopsticks that get the job done and our hands which are arguably the most useful tool we have, people today have plenty ways of eating meals from any type of cuisine. Mixing and matching might be fun, if sometimes impractical, but the variety of utensils and the way they developed paints a picture of all the circumstances that were a major influence not only on their own development, but also the development of the cultures they are used in.