May the spork be with you

- Scott R. Garceau () - June 25, 2006 - 12:00am
I’ve got the solution, I think, to the whole Canadian controversy over the spoon.

Stick a spork in it. A spork, you say? Yes. I’m convinced that this little plastic utensil is the thing that will heal international wounds and bring the Philippines and Canada back together from their recent estrangement.

You know the incident. Last May, a Montreal private school principal apparently traumatized a Filipino student by insisting that the boy use his fork – instead of the spoon beloved by Filipinos – to eat in the school’s cafeteria.

It must be said here that the article, as written by Andy Blatchford for Montreal’s Chronicle (May 2006), does not directly quote the principal of Ecole Lalande, Normand Bergeron. Rather, the principal’s allegedly racist remarks are reported by the child’s mother. This is what is known in journalism as a "secondhand source."

Yet the incident – in which the seven-year-old boy was reportedly told that his eating habit was "disgusting" – did spark quite a protest among Filipinos in Makati, who staged typically colorful rallies in which they dressed as, uh, large spoons and demanded their right to, uh… well, eat with spoons, I suppose.

Not to trivialize the incident, nor to suggest that it’s all a tempest in a teacup (which, of course, would correctly call for the use of a teaspoon), I would just like to play the diplomat here (or the devil’s advocate) by passing along this bit of advice:

Give that boy a spork.

Sporks, as you may not be aware, have been among us since World War II, according to tireless research conducted by STAR Lifestyle assistant editor Tanya Lara. In response to a "Home 911" query, she tracked the trail of the spork all the way to the US military, which supposedly introduced a metallic version of the device to American fighting troops, all the way to the Pacific theater presumably, thus giving the spork a satisfying Filipino synchronicity. (All things eventually do tie back to the Philippines, as I’ve discovered over the years.)

She even found evidence that Gen. Doug MacArthur encouraged the use of the spork among the Japanese after the war ended, finding their use of chopsticks "uncivilized" and their use of forks a bit threatening.

Further research (at Wikipedia.com) suggests an even longer lifespan for the spork: "Spork-like utensils have been manufactured since at least the late 1800s; patents for spork-like designs date back to at least 1874 and the word ‘spork’ was registered as a trademark both in the U.S. and the U.K."

"Spork," of course, is a portmanteau word combining "spoon" and "fork." See, even its name brings about unity and harmony. For some reason, though, the equally sensible "foon" never caught on.

Tanya, it must be pointed out, won’t use a spork. "You can’t eat spaghetti with it!" she told me. "It’s useless!"

Oh, but people have found plenty of good uses for the spork.

Google the word and you will get 2,930,000 hits. That’s a lot of cyberspace devoted to the subject of a hybrid plastic utensil.

I think people like writing about the spork so much for the same reason they like saying and writing the word "Spam." It just sounds funny. Curiously, when you combine "sp" sound with just about any English word, it ends up sounding funny. Scientists should uncover why this is. The spork also looks funny, admittedly.

Sporks come in many varieties, from the plastic models found at KFC, Popeye’s Chicken and Taco Bells worldwide (there’s actually a guy who lists the "Places to get sporks" on his "Unofficial Spork Page") to the metal and titanium numbers that are familiar to those who have ever gone camping or been in the Boy Scouts. Yes, the spork was a handy little entrenching tool for those boyhood camping moments when you couldn’t quite decide: "Does this fresh hunk of raccoon require a spoon, or a fork?"

Where’s Ann Landers when you need some practical advice?

But here’s the best part. The spork could be a godsend for Filipinos. Pack these babies into kids’ lunchboxes in the West, and watch the fun ensue. Tell mommy to send that kid to Ecole Lalande with a spork, and see what happens.

The school authorities won’t know what hit them. They’ll be lost in a philosophical quandary: "Yes, clearly the child is using a variation of the fork, but, but… it’s still… well, it’s still shaped like a spoon…" The Canadian school authorities will have to hold a special conference, in which pro- and anti-spoon voices will be heard arguing vigorously in French ("Zut alors!" "C’est une cuiller, vraiment!" "Cuchon!") and so on. It will be a philosophical poser to flummox even Jean-Paul Sartre. Not even a spork will be able to dig them out of it.

The Canadian spoon incident, by the way, has caused quite a bit of spilled ink on the subject of how people eat in different cultures. My own take on it, as an American, is that I, too, am apt to use a spoon – and not just for soup. I often find it useful for shoveling food – onto my fork. Which I then lift to my mouth and empty. So it’s the opposite of how Filipinos use it, but clearly, the Filipino way is more practical: the spoon, after all, holds more food.

I don’t engage in the habit of crossing my fork over to my right hand after cutting something with a knife, as some cutlery observers have suggested Americans are prone to do. I guess that’s because I’m left-handed.

But anyway, back to the spork. Will it settle the festering "Canadian controversy"? I’m not so sure. The spork may have a more natural home in the US than in Canada. After all, Spam was invented in the US. And what could be more natural together than spork and Spam?
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