The Demise of the Fork

Last weekend at a barbecue joint back in D.C., the owner popped over to say hello, bringing by a small bowl of just-cut brisket, three pieces for six people, heat wafting from the meat. He joined us to devour it, ripping apart pieces and handing over halves to friends. Though this is no fine-dining establishment, nor were we at a sit-down meal with a full plate of food, I acknowledge that it's pretty barbaric. Yet the owner expected the group to eat with hands, and they didn't blink.

I've seen scenes like this more often since I've been paying attention. At Yardbird the other night, a fabulously dressed man who sat at the bar didn't touch his utensils as he ate fried chicken and cubes of watermelon with his hands, licking his fingers as he went.

Eating with our hands is not just about the decline of manners. We're in a transition in which the kind of food we eat -- be it American or Indian, casual fare or street food -- is shaking up how and whether we're using the utensil. And it seems that lately we've been using it a whole lot less.

I'm not advocating that we put down our forks for good. They serve as a symbol of civility and etiquette, among other things. Yet I'm curious: What does it mean that we're eschewing our forks more often? And what has ushered in the change? After the jump, a few dishes that dominate restaurant menus, paving the way for our abandonment of the fork.

The ubiquity of burgers, hot dogs, and sausages has nudged us to abandon our forks. Sure, burgers like this one from Gilbert's might warrant one. But can't you unhinge that jaw a little wider? Burgers aren't for forking.

Most of us would end up using our forks to remove these oysters from skewers. But what if it's chicken from our grill? Or meat on a stick at a food-truck rally? The food-on-a-stick trend implies that our meal is portable, no forks required.

Our cravings for soup, be it pho, ramen, or miso, suggests we're becoming more comfortable sans fork, using chopsticks, drinking out of bowls, and even slurping noodles. Remember just a few years ago when the slurp wouldn't have crossed your mind?

Yardbird and fried chicken have shifted from tailgates to greasy spoons to just short of fine dining. How does one eat bone-in bird parts with a knife and fork? You don't. Dig in.

Whether we're going out for Ethiopian or sushi, we're becoming more accustomed to eating like a local: a fork would be embarrassing. If you're skilled (or you've been taught), you've mastered eating Indian food, rice and all, using one hand, not a fork in sight.

Tacos and burritos are portable, they're charming, and can be found on every block. Though I'm a sloppy eater in that I can't contain the innards, a taco lover has devised his routine for making sure each morsel ends up in his mouth, no fork required.

We are, of course, in a massive love affair with the sandwich, with no signs of it abating. If we let the folks at scanwiches.com have their way, we'll soon be eating noodles with our hands.

What say you? Is the fork going the way of the grapefruit spoon?

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart