Tools of the (kitchen) trade!

Vandana Aggarwal

Eating food is the most basic of human needs. Our food habits are dependent on what is available and how it is cooked. Eating tools, on the other hand, evolved according to what people were eating and how. The first instruments that man used to put food into his mouth were his fingers. Hands remain the favourite of people all over the world. Watch a baby as he grabs food instinctively with both hands and puts it in his mouth. The Japanese may be proud of their skill with chopsticks and Europeans may handle the knife and fork with panache, yet when the time comes to dip into a bag of popcorn or chips, it is the good old hands that come to their rescue. In fact sophisticated cutlery notwithstanding, there is a whole range of snacks called finger foods.

Western culture evolved the knife and fork which was used to cut meat, bread, or vegetables. There is historical evidence to show that spoons were used as eating tools even in the Palaeolithic age. Early man used shells or splinters of wood as spoons. It was probably the Chinese who invented chopsticks and continue to use it as the most important cutlery on their tables to this day.

Eating tools are a part of our daily life and can be commonly seen all around us. This everyday material can be used as a study module in a very interesting manner by connecting it to different subjects. The objective is to augment traditional learning by exploring a subject in an interdisciplinary manner.

Tuning in
To introduce the topic, students can be asked about the tools that they use to eat their food. Encourage them to think why more and more people prefer to put food in the mouth using a tool instead of hands (eating without touching, a belief that touching may cause contamination). Can they mention any other eating tool apart from knife, fork, and spoon? What do the Chinese eat with (chopsticks)? How about a soup spoon? How is it different from a regular spoon and could there be a reason why it is shaped differently?

The author has been a teacher and school administrator in India and Singapore for nearly 20 years and is currently a free-lance writer. She can be reached at

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