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The cutlery equation. Image: Archi Banal
The cutlery equation. Image: Archi Banal

SocietyApril 23, 2023

How do you order your cutlery drawer?

The cutlery equation. Image: Archi Banal
The cutlery equation. Image: Archi Banal

Is it forks, knives, spoons? Knives, forks, spoons? Or something else entirely? 

While my mum was staying with us recently, I walked into the kitchen to find her standing aghast next to the cutlery drawer. Apparently the knives were in the wrong spot, the teaspoons were facing the way of the devil, the forks an affront to good taste and decency. “You have an abnormal cutlery drawer!” she later wrote in a message that might as well have been made entirely out of letters cuts from magazines. “In all the houses I have ever lived in, the cutlery is organised, from left to right, spoons, forks, knives. That is the natural order of things.” 

She attached a photo of her own cutlery drawer, making no mention of the chilling compartment inhabited by just one lonely white plastic teaspoon:

A little boy waits.

Like all the pressing issues of the moment, I raised the cutlery drawer dilemma at The Spinoff’s Monday morning editorial meeting and was immediately met with what can only be described as indiscernible hubbub. This was clearly a hot button topic, a lightning rod, a twisted firestarter, one that no other media outlet had ever dared explore in human history. A Slack poll revealed an organisation divided – 36.67% were Team Me (Knives, Forks, Spoons), 36.67% were Team Mum (Spoons, Forks, Knives), followed by some very curious outliers. 

An unlucky 13.33% proudly inhabited “spoon island” (Forks, Spoons, Knives). Community spokesperson Tara Ward explained the logic behind the line-up. “Forks go on the left because that’s where they go on the table. Knives on the right, for the same reason, which means the spoons belong in the middle.” Ward also revealed an aesthetic angle. “Spoons are gentle and curved while forks and knives are mean and pointy, so putting them in the middle means they become a cutlery NATO in what would otherwise be a drawer of hostility.” 

“This may be the minority viewpoint but it is also the correct one,” she concluded. “No further correspondence will be entered into.” 

Previously on Spoon Island

Trailing behind at the aptly satanic statistic of 6.66% was Team FKS (Forks, Knives, Spoons). “Anything else is horrifying,” explained representative Duncan Greive. “The forks and knives need to hang out as they get used together, spoons on the end as a treat if you’ve done the hard yakka with the knife and fork.” Team SKF (Spoons, Knives, Forks) was held down entirely by Charlotte Muru-Lanning. “There’s no rhyme and no reason behind it,” she said. “It’s just an outcome of four people and all their belongings moving into a flat on the same day – chaos.”

“I’d never have even realised it was unusual if it weren’t for this (pesky!) article. I’m now wondering what it says about the subconscious minds of myself and the people I live with.”

Some rogue respondents transcended the confines of the cutlery drawer entirely. Although ‘Team Mum’ (spoons, forks, knives) on paper, Madeleine Chapman revealed her cutlery to be proud members of the upright citizens brigade (pictured below). “The drawers in the kitchen are huge. We initially bought one of those classic extendable fake wood inserts from K-Mart, but it immediately broke,” she explained. “Then my partner bought a stunning ceramic organiser from local artist Misma Anaru and the cutlery fit beautifully inside.”

It’s a very, very… Mad world

“It’s far too nice to be used for cutlery,” she added. “But it does make our knives and forks a statement art piece in our home.” 

Tommy de Silva had perhaps the most avante-garde offering of the lot, thanks to a 100 year-old flat with no drawers. “We used to have a different cutlery/utensil arrangement until our cat somehow managed to knock over a jug of water, pushing everything over,” he explained. “Afterwards, we put the cutlery/utensil back into the pictured arrangements for no particular reason. Knives with the chopsticks? I think yes. Scissors, lemon juicer and ladles all sharing one pot? Sure thing. Logical and ordered cutlery/utensil layouts? No thanks.”

No drawers? No worries.

After picking through The Spinoff’s drawers, I needed to look further afield. I needed an industry leader. I needed Rebecca Smidt from Cazador, frequent chart-topper in Metro’s Restaurant of the Year awards. “It’s a matter of left to right,” she explained. “Forks, knives, spoons and then a giant catch-all compartment for everything on rotate. I am quite particular about separating soup from dessert spoons.” Smidt posited that “the drawer order follows the table order” in a phenomenon she coined “subconscious ordering”. 

It was a powerful argument, but it was quickly countered by another industry leader – Astar from Good Morning. One of New Zealand’s leading voices in matters of domestic life, Astar’s judgement was assuredly Team Mum. “Spoons. Forks. Knives. Teaspoons in the front” she asserted over email. “That’s how my Nan did it along with my great aunts and aunties and I suppose something handed down through the generations.” She attached a photo of her own kitchen drawers, making apologies for the unpolished silver: 

Astar’s drawers.

But wait, there’s more. “However,” Astar continued. ‘Some go fork first because it goes in the left hand on the left of the plate. The knife goes in the right hand and on the right side of the plate. And the spoon, also in the right hand, is meant to be placed to the left of the knife when setting the table.” I looked down at my notepad, now a Zodiac killer page of jumbled K’s and F’s. The word “knife” was starting to look completely foreign to me. “Spooooons” melted down the page like spilled cheerios. Astar signed off, cheery as ever. 

“I’m just pleased I could add fuel to a cutlery war!”

Keep going!