The common table fork got off to a rocky start. It wasn’t always the beloved utensil that many parts of the world use today. As timeless as the fork may seem, it’s a relative newcomer to the cutlery drawer. For years, Egypt, Greece and Rome had all been using fork-like utensils for cooking, but not for eating. Hands and spoons were more commonly used. (Side note: It’s thought that spoons have been around since Paleolithic times - a long time ago - and were made from wood or shells. But that’s a story for another time.)
Back to forks. In the 7th century during the Byzantine Empire the fork started to appear on dining tables around Greece, and by the 10th and 11th centuries, they were commonplace in wealthy households. However, throughout most of Europe, the fork was still nowhere to be seen. Knives were the weapons of choice - diners would stab their food with a sword-like utensil and lift the morsels to their mouths.
Enter Maria Argyropoulina, the niece of Greek Byzantine Emperor Basil II. When she arrived in Venice to live with her new husband, Giovanni, son of the Doge of Venice, she whipped out a fork - as was customary back home - and began to eat. The local clergy saw her swanky utensil as wildly decadent, compelling one to supposedly remark, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.” Maria Argyropoulina died of the plague a few years later, which - according to Saint Peter Damian - was due to her blasphemous fork-using vanity. But as the years rolled on and the initial shock wore off, the news of the fork spread across most of Europe and became an acceptable utensil. With all that being said, it’s important to consider the stats highlighted in the The Great Food Almanac by Irena Chalmers from the Japanese Restaurant Association in the 90s. The study reported that roughly 1.5 billion people eat with a fork, knife and spoon, 1.2 billion people eat with chopsticks, 350 million people eat with a knife and their hands, and 250 million people eat with just their hands. So, with more people choosing not to use a fork, perhaps the bigger question is why are we so attached to this dinglehopper?
Image by Mae Mu