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Consider the Fork (eBook)
Since prehistory, humans have striven to tame fire and ice, and have braved the business ends of mashers, scrapers, and razor-sharp knives—all in the name of creating something delicious (or, at least, edible). The technology of food matters even when we barely notice it is there, but in recent years kitchen technology has become increasingly elaborate and eye-catching, transforming the old-fashioned home kitchen into a bristling stainless steel laboratory. Far from a new development, however, the modern kitchen is only the most recent iteration of an ancient lineage of food technology, as acclaimed food historian Bee Wilson reveals in Consider the Fork.
Many of our technologies for preparing food have remained strikingly consistent for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans already had pestles and mortars. Knives—perhaps mankind’s most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of that other basic technology, fire. Other tools emerged quite suddenly (like the microwave, whose secrets were unlocked during radar tests conducted during World War II) or in fits and starts (like the fork, which had to endure centuries of ridicule before finally gaining widespread acceptance). For every technology that has endured, others have fallen by the wayside. We no longer feel the need for andirons and bastables, cider owls and dangle spits, even though in their day these would have seemed no more superfluous than our oil drizzlers and electric herb choppers.
The evolution of food technology offers a unique window into human history, and Wilson blends history, science, and personal anecdotes as she traces the different technologies that have shaped—or slashed, pounded, whisked, or heated (and reheated)—our meals over the centuries. Along the way she reveals some fascinating facts—showing, for instance, how China’s cuisine, its knives, and its eating utensils are all the product of the country’s historically scarce fuel supply. To conserve energy, chefs rendered their ingredients quick-cooking by using large, multi-purpose chopping knives to reduce food to small, bite-sized morsels. This technique, in turn, gave rise to the chopstick, which cannot cut. What’s more, the discovery of the knife—in Asia and elsewhere—was likely what gave humans our distinctive overbite. Before humans learned to fashion knives out of sharpened rocks, many of us cut our food by clamping it in our front teeth, which gave us perfectly aligned rows of teeth.
But Wilson shows that, far from being adventurous innovators, cooks are a notoriously conservative bunch, and only adopt new technologies with great reluctance. The gas range revolutionized cooking when it was first introduced in the 19th century by promising to end “hearth deaths,” a constant danger for women wearing billowing, flammable clothing. But indoor gas cooking—safer and more efficient—was nevertheless greeted with widespread suspicion when it was first introduced. Many chefs feared it would taint their food or poison their guests. The same hold true for the refrigerator, which was initially condemned as an unnatural technology that risked changing the fundamental “essence” of food. Perhaps the one exception to this technophobia, says Wilson, was the egg beater, new patents for which proliferated so astonishingly in late 19th-century America.
In this fascinating history, Wilson reveals the myriad innovations that have shaped our diets today. An insightful look at how we’ve changed food and how food has changed us, Consider the Fork reveals the astonishing ways in which the implements we use in the kitchen affect what we eat, how we eat, and how we relate to food.
About the Author
Bee Wilson is a food writer, historian, and author of three previous books, including Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. She has been named BBC Radio’s Food Writer of the Year and is a three-time Guild of Food Writers’ Food Journalist of the Year. Wilson served as the food columnist for the New Statesman for five years, and currently writes a weekly food column for the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine. She holds a Ph.D. from Trinity College, Cambridge, and lives in Cambridge, England.
Praise for Consider the Fork…
I was so enthralled by Bee Wilson’s new book that I found it hard to put down. As always she is a completely reliable guide to her subject, and this history of how we cook and eat is full of surpriseshow human table manners have changed our bodies, and how technological changes can affect our personal tastes in food. Her authority is complete, her scholarship lightly worn, and her writing terrific.”Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Some of humanity’s least sung but most vital gadgets are celebrated in this delicious history of cooking technology. . . . Wilson is erudite and whip-smart, but she always grounds her exploration of technological change in the perspective of the eternal harried cookshe’s been onestruggling to put a meal on the table. This is mouthwatering history: broad in scope, rich in detail, stuffed with savory food for thought.”
John Donohue, editor of Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their FamiliesBee Wilson’s surprising history of common kitchen tools makes for a roiling read that’s certain to be enjoyed by anyone with any interest in cooking or eating.”
Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, and author of What to Eat
Consider the Fork is a terrific delve into the history and modern use of kitchen tools so familiar that we take them for granted and never give them a thought. Bee Wilson places kitchen gadgets in their rich cultural context. I, for one, will never think about spoons, measuring cups, eggbeaters, or chopsticks in the same way again."
Margaret Visser, author of Much Depends on Dinner
Mind meets kitchen: Bee Wilson sizes up every kitchen implement from the wooden spoon to the ergonomic Microplane, and gives us its history, including versions that led up to each object but did not survive for lack of fitness. Her climax is the kitchen, the room itself, the affluent modern version of which has never been so highly designed; so well equipped; so stylish; or so empty.’ She conducts us on a sobering, entertaining, and instructive tour.”
Kirkus ReviewsIn the lively prose of a seasoned journalist, Wilson blends personal reminiscences with well-researched history to illustrate how the changing nature of our equipment affects what we eat and how we cook. . . . Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.”
This scholarly and witty book, packed full of fascinating information and thrilling insights, is as enlightening as it is a joy to read.”
I love Bee Wilson’s writing.”
In this culinary history, food journalist Bee Wilson shifts the focus from the foods people ate to the technology behind their preparation, tracing how humble kitchen implements such as forks, whisks, pots, and stoves shaped our diets, our societies, and our bodies. In Wilson’s hands, even hot water becomes interesting.”
Booklist, Starred Review
At every turn, Wilson’s history of the technology of cooking and eating upends another unexamined tradition, revealing that utensils and practices now taken for granted in kitchen and at table have long and remarkable histories. . . . Wilson’s book teems with other delightful insights.”
Open[s] windows on the dynamic interplay of science, technology and the culinary arts in history. . . . Consider the Fork delves into the chewy past of kitchen technology.”