Book Review: Consider The Fork

Consider The Fork:  A History Of How We Cook And Eat, by Bee Wilson

I must admit that I liked this book a great deal, since it tends to look at items we take for granted and ways of eating that we may take for granted and looks at it from the point of view of the history of technology.  The author has clearly done a lot of reading and other research into the history of food and its creation, and has some very intriguing insights about how this has changed over time and how many fads were signals of larger issues that might not be resolved either.  The author points to some cases where people were early adopters of food technologies or food ways that were not necessarily ideal at first, while others have fallen behind and have been resistant to food ways for one reason or another.  The author reminds us that as is the case in so many other areas of life, the way that we prepare food is based on a variety of factors and that it has implications on the way we cook.  Too many resources tends to make for lazy cooking methods (see, the English), while some ways of cooking are immensely dependent on cooling and on high-tech devices (see, the Americans).  All of this makes for fascinating reading.

This book of about 300 pages is divided into eight pretty long chapters with smaller sections at the end that look at specific food technologies.  After introducing the subject, the author discusses pots and pans and how it is that these have been developed over time, with a note on the rice cooker at the end (1).  The author then looks at the knife and how it transformed cooking very early in human history, with the mazzaluna at the end (2).  The third chapter discusses fire and how it made it possible for us to digest more food than before, with the toaster and its late development at the end (3).  The fourth chapter looks at measuring, noting that Americans measure in cups while other cultures tend to measure more in weight, closed with the egg timer (4).  The author then looks at grinding and food processing with a discussion of the nutmeg grater at the end (5).  The author then turns to her attention to how we eat with a discussion of tongs and their handiness at the end (6).  This leads to a discussion of ice and various cooling technologies that closes with a brief discussion of jelly molds (7).  The final chapter then discusses the design of kitchens over time with a closing discussion of coffee (8), after which there are acknowledgements, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Among the more interesting insights of this book are the following.  There are always trade-offs in the technologies we have.  That which works well for some purposes will not work well for others, so we must have either a variety of specialized utensils or pans or food processors (or at least different add-ons for them) or we must have fewer items that may do more things but do them less well.  Likewise, there are trade-offs involved in the sort of availability of fuel and power.  Those cultures where fuel was common (England) developed massively fuel-intensive ways of cooking that hindered the development of doing more with less that was the case in cultures where resources were under greater constraints (like France), and some ways of cooking were only possible with refrigerators and freezers of the kind that are so commonly relied upon in the United States, whose ways are puzzling to the rest of the world sometimes.  Likewise, it was intriguing to see the way that some cooks like to virtue signal their refusal to use certain devices as a way of maintaining their hipster credibility, demonstrating that cooking and eating has always been a politically act, even when it comes to the design of spoons.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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