Adventures Life Lessons

High and Low Culture: Pastry Fork vs. Spork

London, April 27, 2024, 7 PM

At first, I thought I was stepping into a world of high culture, of high tea, which many of us think of as posh and elite. But in reality, high tea is a working-class meal, hearty and robust, eaten at the end of the workday. It turns out I was going for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is the high culture one. It’s all about elegance and light bites—think scones and tiny sandwiches, eaten in the late afternoon.

During this lavish tea, they gave us a curious tool with our meal called a pastry fork. It’s a clever little thing, part fork, part knife. Sitting in this high-class place, using a utensil that seemed like a cousin to the spork—a tool I’d consider far from fancy—I couldn’t help but see the irony.

The spork, usually seen as basic and practical, combines a spoon and a fork. It’s the kind of thing you might use at a casual backyard BBQ, not a posh tea room. Yet here I was, at Fortnum & Mason, handling a pastry fork that mirrored the spork’s simplicity and versatility.

This experience got me thinking about the fine line between what we see as high and low culture, especially in the world of dining. What I (and everyone else in America) think of as high tea isn’t high at all. It’s called high tea because it was served to working-class people on high tables with barstools. Plus, the pastry fork and the spork serve different crowds, but they’re not that different when you get down to it. Both are designed to make eating easier, blending two tools into one. Finally, Blake summed it up perfectly as we wrapped up our endless tea: “Wow, they let us eat as much as we want and even pack up what we don’t finish. What a deal!” It’s funny how, despite the fancy setting, some things—like getting your money’s worth—speak to everyone.

Today’s tea taught me a lot about appearances versus reality in culture. Whether it’s a pastry fork at a luxury tea room or a spork at a picnic, the line between high and low isn’t always so clear. What we call things have much more to do with fashion than anything else. However, certain things, like inventiveness, whether you combine a fork with a spoon or knife, and value, work well anywhere.

Note: The next day we learned about how Lord Nelson used a combined knife and fork, after losing his arm. Also, there’s a company today called KNORK that makes a consumer knife/fork. It was even one of Oprah’s favorite things.

ChatGPT Plus helped me out with this a bunch. The whole post took me about 30 minutes to write. The key here that I kept it from using too many fancy words by using the prompt “Write up the post using direct language. Prefer Germanic words to Latinate ones.” Also, I was able to get cleanup edits by using “I made some edits here. Make sure you continue to use direct language. Prefer Germanic words to Latinate ones. Bold any changes you make.” Here’s the chat.