Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Have We Fork-gotten?

Dr. Pat Deneen explains the connection between our recent tailspin and the decline of our use of the most civilized utensil. Pat has done well, in all seriousness, in following Leon Kass in reflecting deeply on the connections between how we eat and who we are. We Americans, in our love of fast food, have invented and embraced many ways of getting around the fork, and so of dispensing with the leisurely family meal. It is somewhat repulsive to observe a generation unschooled in the ways of the fork. But that doesn’t mean, it seems to me, that we’re more casual about the eating of meat or inching closer to cannibalism. Big slabs of meat--such as those served in steakhouses--can’t be eaten without forks and have fallen out of fashion. It also might be that finger food is especially conducive to conversation, and our bigger problem, as Susan McWiliams has explained, is a new preference for the narcissistic beverage bottled water over the more convivial beer. I might add that I also see a contempt for proper form in people who use a fork inappropriately--for example, for eating fried chicken, ribs, pizza, or doughnuts.

Discussions - 11 Comments

There's something to what Pat is arguing and I've always been impressed by Kass' reflections on this stuff. Still, it can be taken too far: Kass seems to consider eating in the street an surrender to our animal nature first because its an ill disciplined capitulation to the hunger of the moment but then he also acknowledges its because we're in a hurry to make other appointments. So, like animals we have to "refeul" but unlike other animals we have busy schedules that makes us dismissive of the importance and pleasure of eating. So following Erwin Straus' line of thought, just as using a fork demonstrates our natural propensity to buck nature, in a way so does fast food. Of course, fast food is less civilized in a lot of obvious ways and has troubling implications for the life of the family but if anything its popularity is evidence of our Hyper-Productivity and our pretence of autonomy, which is hardly a surrender to our simple animality.

and doughnuts?

I have seen people eat doughnuts with a fork--probably to deprive themselves of the pleasure of licking their fingers. If we really were to explore this food and fork thing further, we'd have to develop the distinction between fast food and finger food.

I love that observation of yours, Peter. People who eat those foods with forks appear, to me, to be eating them with a superior and sneering sort of ironic contempt for that food and for the folks who normally eat them with appropriate gusto. I'd rather sit down or stand up to eat any food with a Homer Simpson as my companion than nestle down to eat with a fork-wielding donut eater.

Well finger food can be pretty civilized and is often served in swanky settings. Part of the point of finger food like that is to provide something to eat that falls short of a full meal, accomodate a large group of people, allow you to stand and move about with a plate sans utensils, and as Peter pointed out, facilitate conversation. So finger food is a Socratic expansion of the traditional sit down dinner--you can only get so many people around a table that can actually talk to one another.

And I suppose finger food is also an accomodation of our modern restlessness.

Peripatetic eating and imbibing!

I love having a lengthy meal with plenty of conversation and a nice glass of wine or bottle of beer with my wife and children, and also with friends. Julie's comment above reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when everyone is eating the Snickers with a knife and fork. There is something time-consuming and complicated about using a knife and fork that forces one to slow down and savor every bite. Otherwise, what's the point of eating? As an Italian-American, I try to teach my middle-western, German in-laws to slow down and taste their food.

People who eat a lot of fast food are rarely "hyper productive." I would say it is more often slugish, lazy, morbidly obese; hyper productive not so much unless the progress is toward increasing one's girth. As for the fork, I though with the invention by KFC of the spork that we had simply evolved. Mabye this proves Darwin wrong once and for all, considering that a steady diet of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with heavy gravy is not going to equate to the survival of the fittest. It is not just fast food though, look at the people who spend their entire evenings at the feeding troughs, i mean golden corrals. I can see how missing out on family dinner is sort of sad, but I think it is an indicator of the dumbed down consumer culture and not a cause of anything. The glutinous decadence offered by the resturaunt industry and embraced by joe consumer as a legitimate way to enjoy saturday night suggests to me something of hedonism at work in our culture.

Eating a candy bar with a fork trumps the doughnut, I think.

Brutus is right that if you want to be a body builder diet is important. Diet is also important if you want to live longer and be more productive, but it is not just is how you consume foods. I don't know if eating doghnuts with a fork can be topped, except that I met a girl who drank hot coffee using a straw to avoid staining her teeth...but in the end and by my way of thinking women get to determine what is praised and blamed when it comes to manners and food generally. I mean that is why you take a girl out to eat to impress her by not burping, leaving an appropriate show that you are civilized maybe even that you can order in french, pick an average wine, cut brie the right way...As long as the girl doesn't swear excessively, burp...albeit such lower maintenance/standards girls can be alright in a tougher the end of the day it is the gal that is the picky one on these things, and the man will adjust fire and take his cues from her.

Hypothetically if a girl wants to make a big deal out of drinking hot coffee from a straw or eating doughnuts with a fork, the guy will accomodate.

There really are few norms that men can get other men to embrace, and few that women can't persuade men to adopt...which is probably why King Solomon was warned against foreign women(who literally brought new modes and orders and gods to worship...)

Of course at least according to poker lore the sandwich was invented by the earl of sandwich when he was busy playing a card game that was something of a cross between whist and was created because he didn't want to interupt his game to deal with his lame wife and borrish courtiers and wanted to eat without stainning his playing cards with greasy meat juices.

So proper use of the fork is necessary to woo women, and the sandwich was invented to ignore them.

In other words, proper form doesn't exist unless women demand it, or unless the man demands it of himself by adopting his own version of chivalry, but modern chivalry if it exist is more plastic and accomodating to the woman. In a certain sense the metrosexuals/bobo's/euromen are just ahead of the curve when it comes to being plastic about chivalry/manliness, they remind me of Axe commercials and probably read Cosmo.

Theoretically howhever I am not sure that I am not much more autonomous in the Kantian sense than the Cosmo reading plastic manliness guy...I mean if we want to think about who can't read Kant or who would even bother...also the bobo in being plastic about manliness to the extent that one wonders if A&Finch started making people has accomodated himself to the culture.

If you bother reading Kant, if you think about autonomy, then you have already passed or failled a test...In a way then surrender to animal nature+culture are opposed strongly by Kant/Shaupenhaeur...but in so far as manliness is rather crude in animal nature and also in so far as manliness accomodates the culture demanded by the female in the male persuit of this sense the bobo metrosexual is the antithesis of autonomy, he isn't transcending nature or culture but obeying it.

Of course somewhere along the line here someone more refined will bring up Calvinism...but my mother always told me it was rude to argue religion at the dinner table.

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