Human Beings and Spoons

AC Tuli

One of the oldest eating utensils of human beings is the spoon. It is not very certain when exactly human beings started using spoons, but there is little doubt that even when man was in the primitive stage, he must have felt the need of some small, handy device with which he could scoop up food, particularly liquid or semi-liquid type food, from his rough-hewn stone platter or bowl to take it to his mouth.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Thus, we can imagine that our cave-age ancestors must have taken to using small, roughly hollowedoutstone pieces as spoons, and those who lived near coastal areas used seashells for the same purpose .
So, we can say that spoon, or a device approximating to the present-day spoon, is one of the oldest eating tools of human beings. One other reason why spoons must have become a necessity is that hot liquids cannot be easily consumed by using bare hands. So obviously, it was because of this that some 5, 00, 000 years ago our Palaeolithic ancestors used simple bowl-shaped designs that sometimes looked very much like a modem spoon.
With the passage of time human beings improved upon it when they started connecting bowl-shaped seashells to small wooden sticks and chips of wood. With further advancement in civilisation, these devices were slowly transformed into spoon-like shapes – a small, hollow bowl either round or oval in shape, with a handle attached to it. These spoons were made of flint, pewter, and wood. In fact, the Anglo-Saxon word ‘spoon’ means “a chip of wood”.
As innovations were constantly made in shaping spoons, many ancient civilizations started using their own specific designs. For instance, ancient Egyptian Pharaohs used elaborate golden or silver spoons on which were engraved many artistic designs, figures of animals, and hieroglyphics with passages from mythology.
The first documented evidence of spoons in England dates back to the year 1259 A.D – it is said that it was part of an itinerary item from the wardrobe of King Edward- I. Besides, spoons at this time were not merely used for eating, but also in ornate ceremonies by the wealthy and the powerful. For example, the coronation of every British king was preceded by a ritual where the new monarch would be anointed by a ceremonial spoon.
In the Middle Ages, wooden and metal spoons became commonplace in Europe, and since then they have become an integral part of modem eating utensils. There are, however, some civilisations where spoons never fully got accepted as eating utensils.
For instance, people in China,Japan, Korea, and Vietnam eat their food with chopsticks. Some people think that it was the great scholar Confucius (551 to 479 B.C.) who influenced the development of chopsticks. A vegetarian, Confucius thought that the use of knives would remind people of slaughterhouses and therefore were too violent to be used at the dining table.
The use of chopsticks also reflected Chinese pragmatism and frugality in overcoming the rigours of life. Famines and droughts were common in ancient and medieval China; therefore food being scarce needed to be shared between family members. Chinese picked only small morsels with chopsticks to accompany bowls of rice.
Mention of spoons is also found in ancient Indian texts. For example, the Rigveda refers to spoons in a passage describing the reflection of light as it “touches the spoon’s mouth” (RV 8.43.10). India is a vast country with different food habits of people living in its different regions. Normally, in North India people like to eat their food with bare hands.
Of course they use spoons for eating liquid or semi-liquid food as curries, khichdi, soup, pudding, custard, kheer, etc. But chapattisare invariably eaten with bare hands.
In South India, however, people have different eating habits. Theystill use banana leaves as their platters on which they put their food, mostly rice, sambar, dosa, vada, etc. They relish eating all thesethings with their hands instead of with spoons.
In modem times, spoons have many uses in our food industry. Not only that a spoon serves as a perfect tool for consuming liquid or semi-liquid foods (soups, stews, ice creams, etc.), but it is also very useful as a tool for measure, mix, stir and toss ingredients that are very small or in powdery solid form.
It is the standardization of modem kitchenware and eating utensils that has given us the term “spoonful”, which describes the amount of material that can be placed in one spoon container.
In addition to standard dining spoons, here are some other examples of spoons, such as coffee spoon (smaller than a teaspoon), table spoon, dessert spoon, rice spoon, ice cream spoon, cheese scoop spoon, mustard spoon, and many other varieties. While the rich can easily afford silver or even golden spoons for their dining tables, the middle class people all over the world use mostly stainless steel spoons.
A regards forks, these came into use much later. In fact we can say that, compared with spoons, forks are almost arecent invention of mankind. They were first introduced in Italy in 1100 A.D by the wife of an Italian nobleman. Before this time, it was considered polite to pick up food with one’s hands. But this lady felt she was too refined to eat this way, and she introduced a two-pronged fork to her table.
Her idea, however, did not catch on immediately, and it wasn’t until the 1500s that forks came into common use, became popular, and appeared on most tables. Many wealthy people of that time carried their own knives and forks with them when they travelled, as inns did not have them yet. But in some countries, especially China and Japan, knives and forks never became popular. Chopsticks sufficed for them. (PTI)