Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat - Bee Wilson This review was originally published at StoryCircleBookReviews:
http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/consider.shtml


This is a fascinating book, taking us on a journey around the globe and across millennia. The author explores the history of domestic kitchen, its appliances and utensils, some of which have persisted for centuries while others are long forgotten.
According to Wilson, kitchen utensils are part of our culture. How we cook and eat often determines who and what we are, at least to a degree. Written in a clear, precise language, with abundant examples, the book draws from the author’s profound knowledge of the field of food, empathized by her exhaustive research. Her passion for cooking also leaks to the pages, making this nonfiction volume wonderfully captivating.
The book is divided into chapters, each highlighting one aspect of food preparation: from its ancient beginning through technical and social innovations to the kitchens of today. The first chapter is dedicated to the kitchen pot.
No kitchen today exists without pots and pans. The pot is so essential to our kitchens, we often take it for granted, but in the beginning, the clay pot was one of the greatest inventions of humanity. The author insists that the emergence of pottery marked the first industrial revolution. Before the pot, people who couldn’t chew stringy meat roasted over a fire starved. When the first clay cooking vessels appeared about 6000 to 3000 BC, soft mushy food – soup or porridge – became available, thus allowing older people, people with no teeth, to survive. Besides extending our life expectancy, the pot also marked a switch from nomadic to settled life and from gathering-hunting to agriculture. A revolution indeed!
From pots, the author leads us to the other mandatory items in any kitchen – knives and fire. Both have been used in cooking for centuries, in one incarnation or another, despite their inherent damage potentials. Reading about the mankind’s quests to harness the kitchen fire – from an open hearth to an electric range – or about the society’s swinging attitude towards knives was almost as engrossing as a thriller.
The author’s food-wise erudition sparkles, as she not only provided us with serious historical overviews and gastronomical mysteries but also shares come amusing tidbits of information. For example, is it possible that our perfect overbite, which the dentists insist upon, is not the natural teeth position but instead the result of a knife’s work in a kitchen? Anthropological studies Wilson mentions suggest that it is so. If we still tore meat from bones with our teeth, as our ancestors did, our teeth would meet edge to edge, and the overbite wouldn’t have developed. It’s not an evolutionary mutation but a habitual feature of the human face, like calluses.
Surprisingly, the funniest section of the book involves a rather dry topic – measurements. We all measure ingredients when we cook, Wilson says, but only Americans traditionally measure in cups. How much is a cup anyway? There are bigger cups and smaller cups. Clever Europeans avoid such confusion by measuring weight. Does it really matter? After all, our grannies didn’t always have kitchen scales; they measured in handfuls or, the terror of terrors for a young cook: ‘as much as it takes.’ But their cakes were always good.
Gleaning her facts from historical tractates and memoirs, housewives’ magazines and culinary mores, Wilson’s created an engaging story about our food and people who prepare it. Food staples and obsolete cooking methods, the molecular physics of cooking and the social changes inspired by new technologies, cooks’ traditional mistrust of innovations and the eating etiquette – they all found their way into her book.
The only fault I found with this book is its lack of photographs. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the outdated kitchen gadgets Wilson talks about or the new ones. The few pencil sketches sprinkled among the pages don’t make a good substitution.
Otherwise, almost perfect and highly recommended.