Yes, this is a post about chopsticks.
These two sticks used for eating are ubiquitous in Asian restaurants around the globe, just like the fork and knife are basically required in any Western eatery. They are simple, humble, and very easy to use once you get the hang of them. They can be made for durability and reusability, like most plastic chopsticks, or sanitary reasons, as most disposable pairs are.
It is these disposable chopsticks that can present a real concern, however. Most pairs are made in China and imported. Even Japan, which goes through millions of chopsticks per day, imports almost all of them from China. In a world where more and more items we use every day are made in China and imported just to make bigger profits, this is troubling. Even worse, Chinese chopstick makers are facing a shortage of wood, driving up prices.
Enter Jae Lee and Georgia Chopsticks. Lee founded this company last year precisely to counteract this trend. According to CNN, he uses locally recycled materials, as well as wood from locally-sourced poplar and sweet gum trees, to produce his chopsticks. Demand is so high that he will be adding more factories just to keep up, even in other states.
Just don’t look for these Made In USA utensils on the table of your favorite Chinese eatery. Lee exports all of the chopsticks he makes, which — although a delicious irony — does not help the import situation too much. Here’s to hoping he will reconsider this in the near future.
No amount of American-made chopsticks, however, can counteract the other big problem that disposable chopsticks present: the environmental problem. Again, Japan alone goes through millions of chopsticks per day. That is a lot of trees. Also remember that these are disposable. Just about every pair ends up in the garbage after only one use. So not only do disposable chopsticks hurt the environment at the start of production, they also damage the environment at the end of their lives.
The solutions to this problem involve reusable chopsticks. Restaurants can offer reusable chopsticks for diners to use. This way, the patron barely notices a difference, except for the fact that he has to return the chopsticks after he is finished eating. People looking to dine out can also bring their own chopsticks with them. This way, the owner has complete control, and need not worry whether a pair of chopsticks has been washed properly or not — the entire reason for the existence of disposable chopsticks in the first place. Of course, not everyone wants to bring his own utensils everywhere he goes, so this really boils down to a matter of preference.