In 2006, Nora Ephron wrote about the glory of the small spoon. “Here’s the thing about dessert — you want it to last. You want to savor it,” she said in the New York Times. “But you can’t make it last if they give you a great big spoon to eat it with. You’ll gobble up your dessert in two big gulps. Then it will be gone. And the meal will be over.” In France, she bemoans, you must eat your dessert with dessert spoons, which are “so large you could go for a swim in them,” turning a luxurious creme brulee into the hurried bowl of cereal you inhale before you run out the door. “Why don’t they get this? It’s so obvious.”
Ephron might identify with a certain corner of the internet, where devotion to small spoons has become a personality trait. There are memes about the joy of eating with small spoons, the terror of having only big spoons left in the drawer, the audacity of being offered a big spoon, and some internet post about having a fabulous time eating with a teaspoon has now been memorialized as a T-shirt on Amazon. In 2020, Fran Hoepfner wrote for the Takeout that this meme “spoke to the reality of one of my tenets: There is no greater joy than eating any spoon-based food with a teaspoon.”
I agree that I couldn’t imagine eating my morning cereal with the larger spoons in my drawer. But the more I thought about it, the more something seemed off. These utensils were, after all, designed for human use, and it’s not like we all accidentally stocked our drawers with teaspoons and serving spoons only. Is the dinner spoon really that unwieldy? Or are we just using it wrong?
A quick survey of tiny spoon obsessives revealed a range of reasons why people were drawn to them; Ephron-esque savoring was a common theme. As the author of a soup Patreon, Whit Arner has strong opinions about spoons. “I hate the big spoon because I like to be more selective and delicate about what I’m choosing to put in each bite,” Arner says. “The big spoon simply scoops up too much at once, and I feel like I can’t savor my meal as much.” Twitter user India Hays says, “I like prolonging the experience with a slightly smaller spoon, though the difference in how much I’m drawing that experience out may be marginal.”
Another oft-cited reason is sensory, whether stemming from neurodivergence or just generally thinking big spoons don’t feel good. “I have small hands and it is simply too heavy and unwieldy,” Arner says. “I dislike the feeling of the sides of the big spoon on the sides of my mouth,” Musician Al B. says smaller spoons make more sense for them because “I don’t want to strain my jaw to get some food in my mouth.” Saba Imtiaz, a journalist and researcher, says she finds it “almost painful” to eat yogurt or kulfi with a dinner spoon.
Some have even bemoaned the state of modern flatware, theorizing that it has recently gotten bigger. In a metafilter thread from 2012, one person reported the small spoons in modern sets seemed bigger than the dinner spoons in vintage flatware sets. This led me to check my own flatware drawer; the dinner spoons from the set I got for my wedding were indeed larger and heavier than those from older, secondhand sets.
But maybe big spoons are so uncomfortable because we’re using them all wrong. In 1885’s Etiquette: What to Do and How to Do It, author Lady Constance Howard notes that spoons are basically only used for eating soup, soft fruit, and dessert, and that “etiquette ordains” one should use a fork instead of a spoon whenever possible. In the 1923 edition of Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, Emily Post writes that babies are allowed to put an entire spoon in their mouths when they are first learning to eat, but by kindergarten kids should know better. Then, cereal and dessert may be eaten by dipping the spoon toward you, but with soup “he must dip his spoon away from him — turning the outer rim of the bowl down as he does so — fill the bowl not more than three-quarters full and sip it, without noise, out of the side, not the end, of the bowl.” Currently, the Emily Post Institute still instructs adults to eat soup by sipping from the side of the spoon.
Obviously, the kinds of people who learned to eat from Emily Post are not the only ones who used spoons, but they were the ones for whom all these different spoons were designed. When eating the foods you need large spoons for, the expectation was that you would not be putting the whole spoon in your mouth, but instead sipping or nibbling as unobtrusively as possible from the edge.
Armed with this knowledge, I attempted to see if I could ease a dinner spoon back into my life; currently, I only use them for twirling spaghetti, tossing salad, or just making sure the table settings look right. Sometimes, this worked very well. Pureed soup was easily slurped from the side of a bigger spoon, as was ramen broth, and noodles twirled with ease. But most of my other spoon applications felt off: with rice and dal, morning cottage cheese, and bowls of chili, the bigger spoon was missing something. Every time, I just wanted a bite with enough meat and liquid to be satisfying, but still small enough to fit in my mouth. The smaller spoons were simply much more pleasant.
It’s notable that many of my big spoon failures are with foods Emily Post would never have written about. Spoon preferences have changed, or become more pronounced, because the kinds of foods most people eat have become more varied. It is not uncommon for your average American to consume fried rice, spaghetti, and enchiladas all in the same week. Our utensil use has had to change to ensure it’s appropriate to what we’re eating.
Perhaps flatware companies have caught on to the trends. CB2 did not respond to my inquiry as to whether it’s seen any changes in spoon purchases over the past decade, but its three-piece flatware set currently comes with a knife, a dinner fork, and a teaspoon, whereas the more formal five-piece sets come with a larger dinner spoon. And instead of terms like dinner spoon, dessert spoon, or teaspoon, Year & Day refers to its offerings as simply “big” and “small” spoon, and each are available for individual purchase. Nothing is stopping you from stocking your drawers with entirely small spoons. Maybe that’s the future.