I have never understood why I was condemned for centuries. My sisters were never treated thus. Svelte and sharp, my eldest sister is the most revered. She has been respected by humans from the beginning, thanks to her sharp edge that humans still find useful. My middle sister was also immediately accepted for her ability to lift and carry. But not me. Humans preferred to use their hands rather than admit I’m useful. Some English noblemen thought I was only good for dueling. Wouldn’t my eldest sister be better in a fight?
But wait, I’ve probably confused you. Let me start at the beginning.
My eldest sister, the knife, has been around as long as man has butchered prey. The earliest blades have been dated to over one million years ago. For centuries, most men possessed one sharp knife that was worn around the waist when not in use. Only nobles could afford separate blades for war, hunting, and eating. In the 17thcentury, the blunt-ended knife graced French tables for the first time. It was an attempt to prevent men of rank and privilege from using the pointed end to pick their teeth.
My middle sister, the spoon, was born over 20,000 years ago in Asia. She was immediately accepted as a practical implement, used for dipping into porridge or soupy foods not liquid enough to sip from a bowl.
And me? I’m the fork. I wasn’t born until the 11thcentury in Tuscany. Unlike my siblings, I was condemned by the clergy, who argued that only human fingers, created by God, were worthy to touch God’s bounty. I ask you, why is the spoon okay and not me? For one hundred years, I continued to be a shocking novelty and a sign of excessive refinement.
Thomas a` Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and British chancellor under Henry II, introduced the two-prong fork to England after he returned from a six-year exile in Italy. According to legend, English noblemen used the fork for dueling, not eating.
Before I gained acceptance, food was picked up in various ways: spearing food with one of a pair of eating knives, cupping food in a spoon, or pinching the food between three fingers. In the 17thcentury, the person who picked up a fork was ridiculed. French nobility gets the credit for propelling me into a symbol of luxury, refinement, and status. To touch food with bare fingers became gauche for the nobles of the day. It was about time.
Even as late as the 18thcentury, most people, especially the poor, continued to share communal bowls, plates, and drinking glasses, though my sisters were widely available and almost everyone used them. Two hundred years ago, most inns in Europe and America provided one or two, but seldom all three of us at the table.
The next time you eat, take a moment to be thankful the meal isn’t served in a communal bowl, each person gets their own glass, and that I, the lowly fork, finally found acceptance.