Monday, June 18, 2012

Where He Goes On and On about Wooden Spoons . . .

NOTE: Here's a challenge I launch to my BYU-Idaho students this week. I've given them about the first half of this post, and will give them the rest later this week.

I’ve harped on a few of you to be careful with your research. To be careful citing sources. To be careful finding sources which are credible to begin with. I hope I’ve done it gently.

Why do I do this?

Credibility is a writer’s bread and butter. If a writer makes an argument that can’t be backed up by credible sources or credible evidence, that writer has failed at making a successful argument.

Don’t feel bad if you’re one of those I’m gently harping on. Finding credibility is something writers struggle with. Even the professional ones.

Here’s a wonderful example I stumbled across while perusing this week. See if you can tell me why I might doubt this writer’s research chops and her choice of credible sources.

Here’s a hint. My quibble comes in this paragraph:
And yet take a quick look around a cooking-supply store (or most home kitchens), and it’s easy to see how outnumbered wooden spoons are by non-wooden ones. A Williams-Sonoma’s customer-service representative, who said she sells more stainless-steel spoons than anything else, told me that the company’s wooden spoons are just not as popular as their flashier cousins. A Sur La Table representative I spoke with told me the spoons she sells the most of are silicone. I browsed Amazon's list of best-selling kitchen utensils and gadgets, which is updated hourly, on multiple occasions over the course of several weeks, and I never once saw a wooden spoon in the top 10 or even in the top 100.
Here’s another hint: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the credibility of her sources – I’m sure what the folks at Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and the autobots at are telling her is absolute truth, completely verifiable, and 100 percent accurate.

Here’s another hint: It has to do with credible sources and critical information that the author omits from her argument.

Here’s another hint: Search for “wooden spoons” at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table’s web sites. Do the same at Amazon. Then go to a local Wal Mart, Target, or a dollar store and see what you can find by way of wooden spoons.

It’s price.

Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table sell expensive wooden spoons. Now I’m sure there are advantages to, say, Williams-Sonoma’s olive wood slotted spoon, or its olive wood blunt-end spoon, which sell, respectively, for $21 and $15. I’m glad to see Sur La Table offer similar olive-wood accessories at less expense, with prices ranging from $19.95 to $14.95.

Amazon’s a better bag of prices for spoons. Though you can still find some expensive varieties there. Amazon sells, for example, an OXO large wooden spoon for $8.14. You can get the same, however, at Target for $5.99.

For cheapie basic wooden spoons, neither Target or Wal Mart’s websites will give a price, they just say “prices vary by location.” Translation: They’re so cheap, it’s not worth putting a price tag up on the website.

I can buy a package of three wooden spoons at Dollar Tree for one dollar. It’s the same at Wal Mart.

So what’s the problem with this writer’s argument?

She laments that no one uses wooden spoons any more by pointing out that expensive wooden spoons at boutique kitchen gadget sellers and aren’t among the top sellers. She didn’t ask the folks at, say, The Wooden Spoon Company (with its screaming website) about the popularity of spoons.

This company not only sells wooden spoons – at less than a dollar a pop – but is also doing a brisk business selling character wooden spoon toppers.

She didn’t talk to any discount retailers – where many people may be going to buy wooden spoons since they’re happier to pay $1 for three rather than drop $5 to $20 on a boutique spoon.

There may indeed be a passing of the wooden spoon in the world, as chefs migrate to silicone spoons as she argues, but she hasn’t convinced me because of the additional credible evidence she could have included.

Maybe I’m picking nits. But it should be clear if you’re arguing that wooden spoons aren’t popular, you should really look at why they’re not popular at certain retail outlets and then consider where they might be popular. The prices at Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table should have set off her writer’s alarm bells – these are expensive spoons. Maybe people prefer less-expensive wooden spoons, and figure if they’re doing to drop $20 or more on a spoon from a boutique seller, they’re “better off” buying something else, since their wooden spoon dollar can be stretched elsewhere.

One more note: She says to look at most home kitchens to see wooden spoons outnumbered. She claims it’s due to the wooden spoons’ unpopularity. I counter, seeing all the gadgets we have in our kitchen, that the reason wooden spoons aren’t outnumbered is because they work, whereas the other spoons, ladles, and such we have in our kitchen outnumber wooden spoons because of their imperfections – we hold onto tools that are imperfect hoping someday to find the perfect tool, but we rarely do. Since wooden spoons we regard as universally useful, we don’t collect as many because we don’t hold on to imperfect wooden specimens.

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