December 12, 2007

I chew toothpicks incessantly, with a container of fresh ones on one side of this computer and a stack of little chewed ones on the other. It might be bizarre, but better toothpicks than crank.

(Parenthetically, let me ask if you are into the irresistable
Australian Tea Tree Toothpicks? If not, let me encourage you to sample them.)

Of course the Chinese have destroyed the American toothpick manufacturers, as this article points out.

The last toothpick factory in Maine closed just a few years ago. Now, boxes of toothpicks bearing the Forster brand name—which is still believed to have some value by its present owner, Alltrista Consumer Products Company, a division of the conglomerate Jarden—bear in small letters the leg­end “Made in China.” Minnesota is the only place in America where toothpicks are still made, where Diamond, also now owned by Alltrista, churns out eight billion per year. But even that may not con­tinue for long.

China and Southeast Asian countries are turning out toothpicks in incalculable quanti­ties and shipping them around the world. Most Asian timber is typ­ically either from an environmentally sensitive species or of an inferior variety for making toothpicks. An engineer who had worked in Alaska recently told me that he saw vast quantities of timber shipped from that state to China, where it was to be made into toothpicks that would be shipped back to the contiguous United States—presumably at a profit.

But while Forster and other American toothpick manufacturers took great pains to start with high-quality white birch, clean it thoroughly of bark, and never use the dark heartwood, some Chinese man­ufacturers use the whole tree. Recently in New Zealand, I found Chinese-made toothpicks packaged in a clear plastic bag that revealed its debris-laden contents to be splin­tered, partially broken, and of nonuniform color. Toothpicks clearly aren’t what they used to be.

I did learn this fascinating factoid.

China is even making “Japanese toothpicks” for export. The modern Japanese toothpick has a sin­gle point, with the other end blunt and encircled with grooves that give it a finial-like appearance. The decorated end is also functional—intended to be broken off at one of the grooves and so signal that the toothpick has been used. The broken-off part also serves as a rest to keep the soiled point from touching the table. Although it may be acceptable to pick one’s teeth at a Japanese table, it is not accept­able to lay one’s used chopsticks or toothpick on the common surface.

No comments: