December 13, 2006

Spoons, Forks, Snail Tongs, and Christmas

2006 1534 page6 cap was recently bedazzled by the products available while looking in a department store for a simple set of serving dishes for a wedding gift. How many ways can you slice an onion? I wondered as I examined the various kitchen tools. How often would a person make fajitas that they’d need a special machine for it? And where would they store the item? Next to the “instant meat marinater”?
Finding the set I had been searching for I went to the cashier. As I paid her I commented, “You guys have a lot of interesting stuff for the kitchen.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “But you should see the store in the next couple of weeks. We’ll have twice as much merchandise crammed into that space.”
“For Christmas,” was the reply. “We move displays around, stack things higher, all to make space for all the tools and gadgets people want to buy as gifts.”
2006 1534 page6“I cannot imagine needing half that stuff, or even using it if I got it,” I commented.
“You’d be surprised what people want, what they come in looking for.”
Maybe I would be surprised, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t.
Several years ago the General Conference sponsored a seminar on etiquette. The woman who taught it had written extensively on the topic and had worked for the White House—she knew her stuff. And while the class was very informative in regard to various countries’ customs and socially accepted behaviors, the thing that fascinated the class and, to some degree, derailed her presentation, was the history lesson she shared about tableware during the Victorian era in Europe and the United States. Someone in the class mentioned their surprise at the number of eating utensils assembled at a formal meal’s place setting. The lecturer remarked, “You think this is a lot; imagine having about 146 spoons, forks, and knives to worry about.”
Immediately the class was intrigued and soon the lecturer was explaining the proliferation of utensils in the 1800s. It was, she explained, the first time in modern history that people had disposable income, a desire for the “finer things” in life, and the ability to make them. That meant it was a must for anyone who was anyone to have melon spoons, pierced-olive spoons, mustard spoons, tomato servers, bacon forks, beef forks, ice cream forks (there were ice cream spoons, too!), and so on. “People were consumed with having the latest gadget with which to eat,” she surmised. “It just wouldn’t do to use your teaspoon to, for example, pick up nuts or bonbons. You needed a bonbon scoop. And you certainly couldn’t use a cake fork to eat your ice cream.”
How silly, I thought then. What a waste! But as I look around today, in stores, in catalogues, on the Web, and in homes, I realize we’re doing the same thing—just with different props. The excess in our society is sickening as consumerism continues to grow at a frighteningly fast pace. It is almost as if the days of the jelly spoon or lemon fork could be looked upon as “doing without.”
Not one of us is immune to the desire to have and consume. That’s what the seven deadly sins are all about (Mark 7:20-23). Everyone, to varying degrees, wants to be “fatter.” And even if we look foolish trying, as Julia Roberts’ nonelitist character in the film Pretty Woman did when she tried to use snail tongs on her escargot, we want what we see, and we want to fit in.
Maybe if we could be happy with the basics, we would open our eyes to those around us who have nary a slice of bread to break. We’d see the needs, and we’d help more.
Personally speaking, I don’t need the 13-inch flat panel TV I want for our kitchen. Sure, I could save enough money to buy one (it wouldn’t take long to save the $200), but wouldn’t that money be better used to clothe a homeless person this winter? Or how about sending a donation to ADRA, or UNICEF, or a local shelter? And even better, how about if I share my money and time in volunteer service?
This holiday season (and every other day of the year) let’s put away our modern-day cheese scoops, sardine forks, and snail tongs—let’s discard our pretentious consumerism—and follow Jesus’ teachings (John 21:15-17). After all, it is His birth we are celebrating, isn’t it?

Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.