“fork habits” /hashi/

I admit that I hate forks, they seem so antiquated and pointless, yet so useful for so many. If you live in Europe or the Americas, you likely pick up a fork every day and give no thought to it. Humans lived without forks for thousands of years and our “modern fork habits” reveal our attitudes about food.

Think about it, we have the fork, and the chef has the knife. When chef’s create a dish they rarely think of the utensils on the table. Sometimes a chef thinks in micro, or macro terms, and he/she constructs a dish with varying sizes of raw materials, layers them with tweezers or not. Us silly humans pay plenty to knock it apart and we will do anything to get foods into our mouths as quickly as possible – problem number one.

Ploughing our way through in search of “the dish’s taste” we destroy the delicate work of the chef. The fork hauls and mauls over whatever in its way, and you have little control, as the motion is usually one axis.

If you hadn’t noticed, forks are like giant over-sized human teeth, except there are less and they are mechanically driven by our own coordination. How coordinated do you have to be to grab a single morsel when you have an object 100+ times its size. A dish that has multiple layers, constructed with many tiny elements, gets hacked apart by the fork. It cannot easily grab, or select a particular element in the dish, so you have a bulldozer effect.


This is a poem named “The Fork” by Charles Simic:

This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

I’ve heard stories about Persian nobility may have used a fork like tool in the eighth or ninth century. In the 11th century, forks were in use in the Byzantine Empire and research shows an illustrated manuscript from that period, two men using two-pronged fork like instruments at a table.

The development of the fork elevated itself as a grandiose tool, it was decorated, and there were multiple types of forks for all kinds of foods. At one stage forks had to be limited by number and design as there were just too many choices.

In the far East, they used wooden sticks, and we laugh when we see people using sticks, we say, “ha Asians!” as if they are aliens, camera slinging, photo crazed.


But if you think about it, handmade chop sticks (hinoki) are amazing and versatile tools and perhaps we are the aliens? That reminds me of the immigration in Narita airport until some years ago. There was a sign for foreigners that said ‘aliens’ meaning non-Japanese, so there you go, we are the aliens.

Chopsticks came from China as early as 1600 before Christ and are still called kuàizi and pronounced phonetically ku-why-za. But the Chinese have not had the common sense to protect tradition, and so 99% of all Chinese chop sticks are made from plastic, another mouth poison.

The chopsticks in Japan are not just two bamboo sticks and are often made from Hinoki wood, a wood that has been cherished throughout the centuries as a building material for traditional structures such as shrines and temples since it is resistant to rot. It also is used for purification in Shinto ceremonies and to build special baths particularly at hot springs known as onsen.


The wood is fragrant, clean, and beautiful to look at and the chemical properties are simply put amazing. So do you still prefer to have a metal object in your mouth?

Hinoki hashi are a cocktail of organic compounds found in its essential oils and has a quality that makes it important in purification rituals in Shinto religion. Hinoki’s essential oil is jammed full of aromatic chemicals, but the actual wood itself doesn’t let off any interference when enjoying foods. One of the more celebrated components is hinokitol, a compound low in toxicity and has been proven to inhibit the growth of some bacteria and is one of mother natures wonders.

Also think about digestion, chop sticks are often used to take small portions, and “mouth sized bite” and those smaller portions are ultimately easier to masticate and digest. The hashi cannot take a mouthful of anything except rice, that is if you know how to raise the bowl, and coordinate the entire movement.

So in effect you eat slower, eat a little less, and the digestion works better. My advice to any alien who wants longer life is to eat daily: quality Japonica rice, tsukemono preserved vegetables and some fermented miso with misoshiru soup for warming your digestion process. Trust me this is the best way of life and had proven to keep people alive for centuries even though many think of white rice non-healthy.

My guess is, when you eat Japonica white rice it probably aids more your digestive action. Japanese rice, uruchimai is a somewhat sticky rice and perhaps it activates and carries stomach juices that are helpful in digestion. This is just my theory and is not scientific at all.

Don’t forget, it’s good manners and a sign of respect and appreciation (in Japan) to take the last morsel of rice in the bowl and should you dare use fork, the lacquer bowl would be destroyed by the abrasive metal edges. Now just imagine what happens when you clang your teeth with a fork – ouch there goes a tooth.

You need to get used to using two sticks and it opens up another dimension of food ownership. It’s up to you, you can choose, a metal hammer and chisel, or delicate and natural handmade wooden stick. Think it over when you take your next bite, it’s mother nature, or man-made metal that touches your lips.