Thursday, July 9, 2020

Death of the Fork

When did we decide to start eating with our hands?
This is a disgusting picture, by the way, but most restaurants seem to use photos like this in their ads these days.  Looking at food being jammed in someone's gullet doesn't make me hungry, so in a way, they are doing me a favor, I think.

When I was a kid, you sat down at the dinner table for dinner - and breakfast and lunch - and had to have "table manners" which included knowing which utensil to use to eat your food.   We used knives, forks, and spoons, and using your hands to touch the food was considered a faux pas in most instances.   Maybe you could eat bread with your hands, that was it.

My parents used to regale me with tales of my Dad's Grandfather, who was a broken-down alcoholic, but managed to join the Army a second time, during World War II (he was a "retread" having served in "The Great War" as well).   He was stationed in India, as an officer, and was in charge of logistics at the port there, corralling machinery and weapons and ammunition from the Liberty ships and onto the C-47 transports to fly "over the hump" into Burma.

We were told that Grandpa committed a table manner faux pas by eating with his left hand.  We were told than in India, you ate with your right hand and used your left for "personal business" and we all laughed at how primitive they were - not knowing how to use a fork!  Ha-ha!   I guess that a lot of Western countries did that sort of thing - justifying their colonial attitudes by positing that the colonized were primitives.  Of course, today, we know better - or should, anyway.

The point is, or was, that we thought of eating with our hands as something primitive, and using utensils was a sign of civilization and sophistication (of course, chopsticks weren't included in this, who eats with sticks, anyway?  Turns out, the vast majority of the world.   And it ain't that hard to do, once you are hungry enough).  Today, I believe that most food is consumed in America by hand.  Why is this?  And when did it happen?

Fast food, of course, is the usual suspect.  Burgers, fries, hot dogs, tacos, pizza - all eaten by hand.  Politicians know the media penalty for eating pizza with a knife and fork!  "Elitist bastard" they all say, even CBS news.  Never mind the fact that he had 15 pizza slices shoved in his face that day during campaign events, and he just wanted to cut off part of a slice to taste it.  Using utensils - only those evil 1%'ers do that!  The rest of us claw at our food with our shithooks.

When did this happen? That's the eerie thing about it - it happened so slowly and gradually that we didn't notice it.  It is like clothing or food choices.  It is part of the infantilization of America as I noted before. We dress like big goofy kids, in shorts and t-shirts and sneakers.  We eat like at a 6-year-olds birthday party - hot dogs, burgers, fries, ice cream, and popcorn.  Not just foods we have at the State fair, but as a daily meal. Our health is degraded accordingly.  As a reader noted, we use infantile language - eating "sammies" and going on a "vay-cay" before we have our "nappie" in our "snugglie".

Reverting to eating with our hands is just part and parcel of all this - and again, the whole thing happening so slowly over the last few decades that few people noticed.  Back in the day, our grandparents got up and got dressed - in a suit and tie for Grandpa, a nice dress for Grandma - even though they were retired and didn't have to go to work.  The idea of lounging around in pajama-like clothing was alien to them.  Have to do work around the yard?  Paint the house?  Wear your old suit, and last year's fedora so you don't get paint in your eyes.

Today, suits and ties are for weddings and funerals and not even then.   People have causal weddings on the beach and are buried in their team's jersey.   It is the new normOur generation won.

We won, as I noted before.  No longer are we choked by the tyranny of the necktie!  No more sweating in three-piece suits, while our secretaries shiver in short dresses!  No more table manners!  No more lessons!  No more books!  No more teacher's dirty looks!  School is out, forever!

We won, but sometimes I wonder what exactly we won, and what we lost in the process. Our generation had one huge meltdown temper tantrum and decided that rules are no longer for us.  We wallowed in the excesses of drug use, materialism, and following the path of least resistance.  Grandpa put on a suit every day, even when he had little to do because that is what one did, if you wanted to maintain a certain level of class.

You ate meals as a family, at the dinner table, and asked to be excused.   Today, kids microwave a hot pocket and then carry it back to their darkened bedroom lair like some sort of wild animal scavenging for food.  A raccoon foraging in the dumpster has more finesse - at least they wash their hands.

It is like so much else I see in life - I can't put my finger on what it is, or why it is wrong, or even if is wrong, only to note that it is happening and wonder why and whether it is a good thing.

To be sure, my brother and I did not enjoy "sitting down to dinner" with my parents, as we would be harangued by our parents about the length of our hair, our grades in school, and our other failures in life.  It was like one of those communist "group criticisms" except of course, that our parents' behavior, scandalous as it was, wasn't up for discussion.    Over time, we all drifted away, leaving only me and my mother to have a hot dog while watching re-runs of Hogan's Heroes while she drank a "cocktail for two" or perhaps two.

But there were happier times, of course, long before, where the six of us would sit at the dining table and have dinner together as a family. That was 1968. A lot has changed since then.  Eating with our hands - and eating alone - seem to be part of this change.

I'm not saying we need to "go back to the good old days" as that is not possible to do.  We've been let off the leash for too long to go back.  Besides, in many respects, these are the good old days, if you bother to look around.  Grandpa wore a suit and tie every day, but didn't have access to a polio vaccine (come to think of it, some kids today don't, either).

But you know, once in a while, it is nice to get out the "good" china and the silverware, set the table, and sit down to a nice meal with family and friends...

.... and eat with a fork.