1. I chose the spatula because of its range of uses. At its simplest, it’s a flat piece of plastic or metal at the end of a handle that is used to pick up and flip food while cooking. Past that though, spatulas can be used to clean grills, empty out bowls of batter or icing, smush, smash, cut, pound, and the list goes on. The amount that the original shape can be changed while still being simple is incredible. There are long ones, short ones, wide ones, skinny ones, metal ones, plastic and wood ones. There are curved ones, straight ones, angles ones, and even ones with designs in them. And they are all still understood as spatulas.
I also chose the spatula because of its range in the world. Every kitchen I’ve ever been in has one. There’s no reason really not to; they’re extremely cheap, easy to use, and they are used very often. They are a simple miracle that is taken for granted since they are so readily available in the world.
1. The spatula has a history that is not so well documented. Some believe it was invented in the late 1700s as one of the first flyswatters then adapted to use as a food flipper. Most historians believe it was invented in the mid-1800s but after that the facts get sticky. John Spaduala claims to have invented it working in the kitchen of Hans Kruger. Hans also claims to have invented it which caused problems in a legal battle with the New York Spatula company who didn’t want to give him any rights.
The story of John’s invention all starts with a handicap. John worked in a kitchen whose aim was to produce lots of food quickly. While he was working there his hand got smashed and was almost unusable when it healed. Due to this he was no longer able to butter bread in a quick and efficient manner. He eventually started using the flat back of his hand which led to using a short board. He then sanded this board down into a flexible, smooth piece of wood. Finally, he added a beef rib to the handle creating what is known as the first modern spatula. He would continue on to replace the handle with wood and the end with a thin metal sheet.
Eventually the spatula started to spread around kitchens in New York. Cooks and vendors began handmaking their own and selling them out on the street as the best new thing, promising “a new day of cooking” (Francis McGinney). Shortly after, the first commercially produced metal spatulas were put on the market by the New York Spatula company. Spaduala then sued them for stealing his design, a case that the NYSC would go on to win, leaving Spaduala with no rights to his invention and no money gained from it either.
Spaduala would go on to continue inventing kitchen tools, trying to find another spark and outdo the spatula, but he was never able to create that success again.
The primary function of the spatula is in cooking. At its most basic it is defined as “a flat thin implement used especially for spreading or mixing soft substances, scooping, or lifting” (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
This object is used by pretty much everyone who has ever cooked in their life due to its simplicity and range of uses.
Materials & Production
The spatula comes in many different materials and models. Most regular spatulas are made from a metal core with a layer of silicone around it (some are made from harder plastics as well). Many are also made from solely metal, wood, rubber, or a mix of the materials. Most spatulas are mass produced which allows for their cheap price and availability.
(Due to the range of forms in spatulas, I will stick to the conventional spatula to study affordance.)
The spatula is extremely well suited to the tasks it is made to perform. It has a handle that is thin enough to be easily grasped by anyone and that is usually made of an insulator so as not to burn the user. The end used for flipping is thin and flat, usually with a tapered end that allows it to easily slide under the food that is meant to be lifted. This end is also able to scoop and mix soft substances due to its hardness and surface area.
The spatula also has very good signifiers. Most handles will be wider than the rest of the stem or have a hilt, showing where they end. The tapering at the end of the flat part of the spatula is also a good signifier that it is meant to slide under something.