Are you watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? Yes, it’s reality TV, and a little staged and whatnot, but it’s also unbelievable and eye-opening and I think necessary. I know a lot of people criticize him as being arrogant (as in, how dare this snooty Brit come and tell us we’re not doing it right?) but I don’t see it like this at all. First, it’s his life mission, one he has passionately started in his own country a long time ago, second, I think he’s very close to the people and genuinely wants to help them, and third, well, I’m sorry, but he’s right. I never think he sensationally uses the things that are wrong to culturally demean Americans or express his own superiority, but rather finds himself utterly flabbergasted by what he sees and is perceived as normal (like children who don’t know any vegetables or eat NOTHING but processed junk).
One of my personal favorite moments (discussed in this interesting article on the Huff Post) was when he realized that the elementary school he was working with (with A LOT of resistance from the people) simply didn’t have knives and forks. Jamie was really incredulous, not believing that children never learned to use them before the age of 10; but actually he wasn’t as much as the school cooks and principal, who couldn’t grasp that kids in the UK (and a lot of other countries I guess) had them, and even asked for proof.
Obviously that’s bad; there’s nothing wrong with eating with your hands once in a while, but if you start thinking about which foods require no utensils for a second, you quickly realize that it’s not usually the healthiest and a grim portrait starts to paint itself. Kids never using utensils means kids never eating pasta, or salad, or stew, or rice, or a steak or chicken breast, only an endless array of pizza and hot dogs and fries and chicken nuggets. And that’s the problem of course: by wanting to do cheap, easy lunches that the kids “would eat,” children stopped being taught about real food or basic table manners.
But that being said, it can *also* only be about snobbery and pretense, and I’m the first one to find it very irritating. The other day, I had lunch at the corner Thai restaurant with two coworkers, one French and one Quebecer. The French, as they often do, was mocking the other one who was cutting up his Pad Thai noodles with a knife and fork. The French guy quickly started to make fun of our habit of cutting spaghetti and other long pasta, which was apparently “such a sacrilege” (even though we’re also French and culturally more “Latin,” they also view us as very North American, and therefore less refined than them, which I personally think is largely bs). When the Quebecer asked him why cutting pasta was so bad, he just slammed him by saying that “it was gastronomy, so he couldn’t understand” (the guy is normally quite nice, of course he was sort of playing along the stereotype of the annoying Frenchman).
Two seconds later, I finished my own Pad Thai, leaving half of it intact (portions are just humongous). The French guy who was still hungry after his own chicken rice meal asked me if he could have my plate, and I agreed. He then proceeded to very messily eat it with his fork alone, the long soppy noodles misbehaving and giving him a hard time. I would have normally never said anything like that, but this time it was too easy and he had asked for it: “You and your incorrect habit of eating Thai food with a fork! This is meant to be eaten with chopsticks! But it’s international gastronomy, so you couldn’t understand…” He smiled, but stayed quiet for the rest of the meal.
I was quite pleased with myself. I mean, I’m all for table manners, I know a thing or two about etiquette and think it’s very important to teach my son not to eat like a slob. But if his “eating properly” logic was true for one thing, then it needs to be applied for everything, including areas he’s less familiar with. If you “must not cut spaghetti” with a knife (or lettuce or bread that’s in your plate), then it’s only normal that you eat Asian food with chopsticks the way it was designed to, but also that you eat a burger with your hands. I’ve seen a lot of French people eating them with a knife and fork, -and wine. And I’m sorry, but that’s just ridiculous and weird.