Why Chopsticks? A Western Worldview. A parable for our times.

JoelCulture, East vs WestLeave a Comment

As a Singaporean, I have been brought up in the confluence of the East -West  divide.

It has been a source of great interest to me.  I came across this post in a forum not too long ago, to me, it represents much of what I have written about with regards to  the East-West divide.

” I never understood the need for people to eat with chop-sticks. Why would anyone want to eat with something so hard to use and unnecessary. Now, I totally understand people in China using them. I know they are cheap for them to use and when you don’t have a lot of money, that is great. What I don’t understand, is why would you purposely use it in a Chinese restaurant in America when they have forks. I am not trying to be a hater. I would really like someone to just explain to me why or what the advantage of it other than tradition or something like that. ” 

I couldn’t Help but respond.

1. Communal Eating: Chinese Eat communally. Traditionally, a family sits around a table, each with their own individual serving of rice, the meat and Vegetable dishes are placed in the center. Chopsticks allow one to reach food and to politely pick just the pieces of food one wants as opposed to just scooping.

2. Staples: In the Chinese culture, the staples are rice and noodles while in western cuisine, they are usually potatoes and bread. Each culture would have developed implements to most effectively consume what is prevalent. It is inherently more clumsy to attempt to consume a bowl of soup noodles with a fork and spoon and impossible with a fork and knife.

3. Cuisine: Chinese cuisine was developed around rice. Meat and veg dishes were meant to be paired with rice and hence are prepared that way. Chopsticks are the ideal implement for bring food to the rice bowl and then allowing that food to be consumed with rice. Chinese cuisine also has delicate foods like Tofu and Dim Sum which, were simply not meant to be clumsily prodded and pierced with a fork.

4. History: One has to remember that China and Japan were eating with bone china porcelain crockery and chopsticks for thousands of years while most western civilizations were still tribesmen eating with hands. The Cuisine has also developed over that time and that has lead to many of the types of food available in the west today. (see  pasta). Western cuisine developed from the medieval banquets with bread used as bowls and hands as the main implement to eat. forks and spoons were never ‘Fancy’.

5. Culture : There are 1.3 billion Chinese in China alone, and maybe 235 million in Japan/Hong Kong/Taiwan/Korea. The Population of the EU and the USA add up to about 800 million. 1,550,000,000 vs 800,000,000.  In Fact, the populations that use a ‘Fork and Spoon’ as the usual implement to to eat with are in the minority. This is of course not to say that it is better or worse, just to provide some perspective.

Many people believe that  the degree to which a nation  has progressed has to do with how ‘westernized’ it is.
The converse is probably true, The world will probably be more Chinese.
We shall discuss this further. Stay tuned.


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JoelWhy Chopsticks? A Western Worldview. A parable for our times.