Sunday, August 05, 2007

How do you wield your knife and fork?

Recently Susie mentioned that her Australian sister in law still kept a number of her Aussie ways even after living more than 30 years in the U.S. I was curious as to which habits she maintained. When Susie replied that her SIL used her utensils in an unusual way, this got me to thinking again about why Americans have a different way of eating than Europeans and Australians.

Briefly, the American method is the cutting of a piece of meat, fork in the left hand, knife in the right, then putting the knife down and swapping the fork to the right hand, whereas elsewhere the fork and knife remain in the left and right hands respectively. I jokingly wrote to her that I was going to research the reason for this on the internet, Google being the font of all knowledge, of course!

Well, with a simple search of "eating utensils", I found the following at
A history of eating utensils in the West: a brief timeline. Basically it boils down to the lack of forks in early America. You can read more about it at the link given, but here are the most relevant entries.

Early 17th century
As forks become more common implements at the table and are used for holding food steady while cutting and for conveying the food to the mouth, it is less necessary for knives to be made with pointed tips. They begin to be made blunt at the end.

Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony possesses what is said to be the first and only fork in colonial America. The fad for using a fork has not yet reached the Americas, but Americans continue to import their knives from Europe. The blunted knives imported from Europe are not so easy to eat with as pointed ones were, and many people begin to use a spoon to steady food while cutting it. They then switch the spoon to the right hand to scoop up the bite of food -- the beginnings of what is known today as the zig-zag method.
I don't know about you, but I found that very interesting, and continue to be amazed that the internet could provide me with this information.

So how DO you wield your knife and fork? I asked Pea, my only Canadian reader (that I'm aware of), and it would seem from her answer that Canadians also use the zig-zag method, indicating that this is a North American thing. I'd be interested to hear from people who know of different methods used in other countries.


Alice said...

I'm sure Kerri will comment on this one and no doubt tell us whether she still retains her Aussie ways or not. So come on, Kerri, spill the beans.

Perhaps I should start cutting my food and then transferring the fork to my right hand to eat. I wouldn't eat so fast then ... lol

Rhea said...

Table manners are interesting because they vary from place to place. As a kid in America, I was taught to eat soup quietly. In Japan, my hosts there said I should slurp the soup. It is SO hard to break an old habit like that, not to slurp.

Gina E. said...

Anyone out there use their fingers? Going back to stone age here..

Annette said...

Am I the lone American who thinks that the zig-zag method of eating is silly? Despite that, I do it automatically. I wonder if switching to eating with the fork in my left hand would lead to slower eating? I will have to try it this week and see.


Susie said...

Thanks for the linky!
Found your research very interesting. I'll be back to read more of your comments.
I zig zag, although I didn't know the name for it. As you say, Google is the font of all knowledge!
Fun post!!

Joan said...

Oddly enough, I'm the only one in my family who does not switch hands. Although righthanded, my fork stays in my left while eating and my knife remains in my right. I have absolutely no idea why I chose this method although I'm thinking I was just too lazy to do the zigzag thing when I was young and it "stuck."

And thanks for the info about's obvious that you can't take the "librarian" out of us retired ones!

Cris said...

A few styles, American, continental.. We use the same here, even though I keep the fork on the left hand... And a question for you! How do you eat your pizza? Do you use your hands? We use knife and fork. :-)

Val said...

Alice and Annette, I think you should both try swapping utensil methods to provide research on whether this slows down your eating!

Rhea, you have reminded me that there is something else to be researched: how do chopstick users use forks and knives when they eat Western style?

Gina, I think there is a place for eating with the fingers. Some foods demand it.

Which leads me to Cris's question: how do you eat a pizza? I grew up in the U.S. eating pizza with my hands, but when I went to Italy as a 20 year old and came across the Italian individual pizza for the first time, I made an immediate switch to eating pizza with a fork and knife. That gets very strange looks in the U.S., even from my mom!

Susie, I was amazed to see that that method even had a name too! And thanks for starting off this whole thing.

Joan, somehow having info being found so easily doesn't give "the thrill of the chase" that you'd get with old fashioned reference tools.

Merle said...

Hi Val ~~ Occasionally I use a fork only, depending on what the meal is,
otherwise I do it the Aussie way - fork in left hand, knife in right.
Thanks for your comment - I assure you I was not showing off about increasing the print size. I really
need it to help me read a lot of posts as my eyesight is getting worse
My son discovered that tip and knew it would help me. Take care, Val
Love, Merle.

Annette said...

Pizza is definitely a hand food at home, but a knife and fork food at the pizza joint.


Sonia said...

Hi Val, very interesting post. As I said to you, I do this way: the food is cut up with fork and knife, then the knife put down, fork switched to the right hand, conveying the food to mouth.

And we eat pizza always with knife and fork.

T*mmy said...

I was wondering myself about Susies SIL..
Nothing wrong with keeping your ways in a foreign country or "state"...I have no intention of changing any of my ways or manner of speaking just because I live "up North"...teehee!!
People can always learn from one another!
Interesting Post...I do it the American way I reckon...I hold that slab o' steak still with my fork held in my left hand...saw with my knife in my right hand...and you know what...depending on how hungry I am I will eat it off the fork before I switch...

John Cowart said...

I hold my burger with both hands.

jellyhead said...

The Zigzag method, huh? Who knew!

Val, thank you for your explanation of how you add things to your sidebar - your advice was what prompted me to change over to the new template (which I think looks much better!) Thanks again :)

Kali said...

how interesting...i had no idea about the zigzag method!

Great post, and I will certainly be reading up further with the link you provided.

Kerri said...

Gosh I'm a little slack and bringing up the rear here! What an interesting post Val, and as Alice says....a good one for me to comment on. I still use the Aussie way of eating.....mostly. Once in a great while I switch to the US style.
Two foods I eat with my and corn on the cob. I have been known to eat pizza with a knife and fork occasionally, but mostly not.
We're eating sweet corn from the corn patch now, and boy, is it good!!!!
Amazing what you can find out on the Internet, isn't it?

Lee-ann said...

Val, yes the first thing I noticed about my friends in Maine was the way they eat their meals the zig zag method. I tried it but cannot get the idear behind double dealing! ((smiles))

I can tell you whhe I lived in PNG they only use a spoon.

Now I will go and comment on your job post I think it is great.

see you again soon Lee-ann