Thursday, August 11, 2011


My husband and I spent last week at a board gaming event, the World Boardgaming Championship, so we did no cooking. However, we did play quite a bit of a card game called "Innovation", which is about scoring cultural and technological advances and achievements. In the new expansion to Innovation, one of the cultural advances is...chopsticks.

My husband thought that all world eating implements should have been included, not just the Asian chopsticks. My theory was that chopsticks counted as an advance (and a very early one at that) because it was one of the first eating implements other than a knife or fingers, to be invented.

It turned out that I was right. Chopsticks are very old indeed. Wikipedia states that chopsticks date back as far as the Shang Dynasty--roughly contemporary with ancient Greece, where people were presumably still eating with their fingers. As you would expect, they were invented by the Chinese, whose migrations spread them throughout Southeastern Asia. There is an elaborate etiquette to their use, and such etiquette differs from region to region, a fact which Wikipedia covers in  some detail.

But there are other sources of information about chopsticks besides Wikipedia, even if you confine your research to the Internet. For example, this article states that chopsticks were originally a one-piece utensil, shaped like a pair of tweezers, but developed into their current form by about the 10th century CE, which is the approximate age of the earliest surviving pair. 

One doesn't normally think of eating utensils as a technological development. But they are, since it is possible to eat not just more cleanly and sanitarily, but also more quickly with an implement, especially an efficient one such as chopsticks. (It also makes it possible to read while eating, as book lovers like me have long known.) It's another step on the road to civilization, and helps explain why China achieved such a high level of civilization so early in history. That's worth thinking about, the next time you pick up a cheap pair of bamboo chopsticks in your local Chinese restaurant.

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