Free will exists, and I choose to eat with the tiniest possible spoon

Illustration for article titled Free will exists, and I choose to eat with the tiniest possible spoon
Photo: Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group (Getty Images)

I am loathe to use Instagram these days for a multitude of reasons:

  • It is owned by Facebook, a company I hate;
  • I am forced (“forced”) to bear witness to my peers and acquaintances and sometimes very close friends being needlessly irresponsible during a global pandemic;
  • Too many ads for bras

And yet I return to the app, morning after morning, with the hopes of seeing, above all else, a meme that I will like. Through the act of photoshop or text manipulation, someone out there always generates a macro that makes me laugh so hard it is worth compromising all of my integrity and willpower. The image that has brought me the most joy and sparked the most conversation in a year in which conversation is otherwise something along the lines of “Bad, huh?” “Yes, I agree, very bad” is a stock photo of a man wearing a brown T-shirt with the following caption photoshopped on: if im [sic] eating with a tea spoon dont [sic] offer me a big one im [sic] having a fabolous [sic] time and know exactly what im [sic] doing

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Or, if we choose to view it with line breaks:

if im eating

with a tea spoon dont

offer me a big one im

having a fabolous

time and know

exactly what im doing

The text is simple and to the point. “Fabulous” is spelled incorrectly. There are too many words on the shirt for it to be an effective or good use of words on a shirt. And yet, unlike most overprocessed images I see online when in various states of doomscrolling, here was one that I finally felt spoke to the reality of one of my tenets: there is no greater joy than eating any spoon-based food with a teaspoon. The tablespoon is unwieldy and gauche. It is frustrating and massive. With it, a bite could be too big, too hot. Its expanse is so all-encompassing that I’ll never truly know what goes into my mouth.

A teaspoon, however, is the perfect vehicle to deliver a spoon-centric food (soup, yogurt, pudding, chili, ice cream, mashed potatoes, smaller pasta shapes, stew, goulash, and so on). A teaspoon elongates the meal. It allows you to deliver food to your taste buds in smaller bites, giving you the opportunity to take pleasure in whatever the cuisine is. One could even make the case that, ahem [extremely “I misguidedly went to graduate school and didn’t learn anything” voice], to eat with a teaspoon is proudly anti-capitalist. It prolongs pleasure, prevents a return to whatever work remains on the other side of the meal. Or, more simply put, I have small hands and I like to eat with a small spoon. The act is non-violent, soothing. As New Yorker food critic Hannah Goldfield wrote in her essay “In Praise of Eating Almost Anything With A Spoon,” “Spoons are instruments of peace—unlike forks, with their imperative to stab, menacing prongs bared like teeth, or sharp knives, sheathed in wooden blocks, or hung, like suspects in a lineup, from magnetic strips.”

To me, the key part of the meme is its final clause: “[I] know exactly what I’m doing.” The determination and the willfulness to eat with a small spoon is as deliberate to me as ethical produce shopping is for others (just kidding—I care about that too!). Each trip to the silverware drawer is an exercise in free will and user customization. Just as I find cooking for myself to be therapeutic, so too is the oft-noisy exercise that is rifling through my spoons before I find the best teaspoon.

Like many older millennials I am cursed with the assumption that my lived experience is universal. Indeed, when I smashed the “share to my story” button on Instagram, many friends came out of the woodwork with a multitude of “omg” and “mood” and “wow me” and “same.” Finally! Here I was in a community of people. This explained so much: why my old housemates and I used to run out of teaspoons before any other type of silverware, why it takes me forever to eat any food, why eating has never lost its excitement, thrill, pleasure, and delight. What did David Mitchell once write—“What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?” What is a bowl of [bowl-based food] but a multitude of [teaspoon-sized bites]? Same profundity.

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For others (friends, family, former coworkers, crushes, acquaintances I hadn’t met before the pandemic and will likely never meet now) who don’t kneel at the doll-sized altar of the tiny spoon, what are their lives like? To me, it feels insane to open up the silverware drawer and take whatever spoon is on top of the pile. You have to find a good one, right? In the haphazard, casual sociological research I conducted to write this piece, I spoke to friends of all ages and backgrounds, as diverse a sample size as I could muster in a month’s worth of texts about spoon-based foods. My findings were such:

  • The split between spoon users was an almost even fifty-fifty. (This bucked the theory posited by one friend, who texted, “I think this is a girl thing…”)
  • Those who use the teaspoon do so joyfully, lovingly. To eat with something small is an act of worship! Alternatively:
  • “Big spoon is basically [a] bowl,” one friend texted.

Those who opted against the teaspoon had other systems based on things I’ve never considered:

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  • the type of meal
  • the time of day
  • the amount of chunks in the meal
  • the feel of the spoon handle

Their lives are different, and yet they walk among us. When I asked my own brother, for example, what type of spoon he used when eating spoon-based foods, he replied back, “Spoon?” For some, lest we forget, a spoon is a spoon.

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But maybe the teaspoon is merely the tip of the small spoon iceberg. There are smaller spoons, after all. When I discussed the matter with Hannah Goldfield, she wrote,

I actually prefer the smaller espresso-sized spoon to a teaspoon, I guess because it’s cuter? I use the espresso spoons mostly to eat ice cream, or any soft pudding-y dessert, and I think what I like about it is that it slows me down and forces me to savor and it also satisfies whatever part of my brain is drawn to miniatures.

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Indeed, in my halcyon days of working at an ice cream shop, customers of all shapes and sizes would often decline a regular-sized spoon in order to eat with their used sample-sized spoon. When the shop switched over from plastic sample spoons to metal sample spoons, the newfangled washable tiny spoons started to go missing, slipped discreetly into customers’ pockets. Be well, small spoons! Enjoy your new life!

If the global experiment of social media has failed on account of [select one of approximately a thousand reasons], driving us apart where it means to connect, then perhaps what is so miraculous about the teaspoons T-shirt macro is that it offers a glimmer of connectivity. If the tap-tap-tap of my phone is meant to disengage me from the minutiae of life, here was an instance in which I became even more engaged. Each yank open of the silverware drawer, not scroll across my phone screen, conjures thoughts of friends near and far, grabbing their own spoon, weeding through the silver, in search of the perfect bite.

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DISCUSSION

Dead Elvis, Inc.

How many of you gape-jawed savages are out there eating from serving spoons? Isn’t the teaspoon the default spoon for spoon foods, at least for those of use who can’t be bothered to fuck with soup spoons?