One thing I’m definitely getting used to again in the US is how common it is to eat with plastic cutlery and paper plates. Apparently metal cutlery and solid plates have become obsolete in this highly evolved consumerist culture, where disposability is valued over reusability. I feel like I haven’t eaten off a real plate or held a real fork in my hand (outside of my home) since arriving here.
Almost every time I go out to eat at a cafe, I find myself standing at the utensils and condiments counter – a smorgasbord of all-purpose polystrene – picking out a plastic knife to spread my bagel with, a flimsy white fork to ineffectively stab my salad with, or a disposable coffee stirrer to mix my coffee with, exactly one time. Even at my friend’s house, I was served on a paper plate.
For me, disposable utensils are the sort of thing you only use on rare occasions, when there is no other option (like when you’re having a big barbecue and you invite more guests than plates you own to serve them with). It’s so much more civilized and pleasant to eat with real utensils, and plastic utensils are expensive and wasteful.
I think most Europeans share my viewpoint, because in Europe you are much less frequently served with plastic. This could be due largely to the fact that in Europe people are much more likely to sit down and eat their meal at the cafe, rather than buying food to take-away. And as for Africans, I suspect they’d be washing those plastic forks and using them over and over again (which, frankly, I do myself and fully support).
I feel a twinge of guilt every time I throw away my one-time-use plastic fork. Maybe I will start carrying a real fork, knife, and spoon around in my purse and using them every time I eat out…