It's Technically Illegal To Eat Chicken With A Fork In One Georgia City

Some decidedly weird food laws have inexplicably made it onto the books in many states and, while many of them have since been weeded out, a few are still in place. While it seems reasonable to prefer real butter over margarine, passing laws that require it seems over the top. Yet, there it is in Chapter 97 of "America's Dairyland" Wisconsin's Statutes: Oleomargarine regulations.

And then there's Gainesville, Georgia, which is known as the "poultry capital of the world," thanks to a billion-dollar chicken industry. What does a city do to help preserve and capitalize on that nickname? If you're in Gainesville, you commission a statue of a life-sized chicken, and you host a yearly Spring Chicken Festival. And — just for fun — you enact a law that declares it a crime to eat fried chicken with a knife and fork.

The ordinance, asserting that chicken can only be eaten with your hands, was enacted in 1961 as a way to gain publicity for Gainesville. While people have been arrested in restaurants for bizarre reasons, nobody has ever been arrested for breaking this law. It was jokingly enforced in 2009 when Louisianan Ginny Dietrick, visiting friends for her 91st birthday, was arrested and informed that "... it's against city ordinance to eat fried chicken, 'a culinary delicacy sacred to this municipality' ... with anything other than your fingers." Fortunately, the mayor was on hand to quickly pardon her, as reported on by the Gainesville Times.

Eating with your hands can be beneficial

Although this publicity stunt of an ordinance might seem silly, Gainesville may be onto something. Ultimately, it was ensuring that people got the most pleasure out of the experience of eating a food important to its culture. In some countries, eating with hands rather than utensils is seen as not just respectable but beneficial. "Eating with the hands evokes great emotion," cookbook author Julie Sahni told The New York Times. "It kindles something very warm and gentle and caressing. Using a fork is unthinkable in traditional Indian eating. It is almost like a weapon." 

In the U.S., foods you can eat with your hands are seen as a special sort of culinary fun. It's a pleasure to eat fried chicken or chicken wings without utensils, messiness and all. On Reddit, a question about whether it's preferable to eat chicken wings with your hands was met with over 200 opinionated answers, with most people taking the side of eating with hands. "I mean, you can eat chicken wings any way you want, but if I see you doing it (or trying to) with a knife and fork, I'm going to question your sanity," wrote one Redditor, whose comment was upvoted 441 times. Even Emily Post concedes that it's acceptable to eat some foods with your hands, as long as you do it neatly.