Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: A Fork by Any Other Name

Book Review: Consider the Fork, A History of How We Cook and Eat

“There are fork cultures and there are chopstick cultures; but all the peoples of the world use spoons.” And so, after an introduction on the usefulness of wooden spoons, we dive into Consider the Fork, A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson. In this book, Wilson, a food critic and historian, tackles what she calls the technology of the kitchen; namely why we use what we use to prepare, cook, and eat, and how that has evolved both our cultures and our diet over the past centuries.

 But before we talk spoons, let’s dish about knives. I had never given much thought to the utilitarian utensil before reading this book, but knives are inherently dangerous. In fact, as Wilson points out, they are tools of violence. In medieval and Renaissance Europe you carried your knife on your body at all times. Wilson tells us, “Almost everyone had a personal eating knife in a sheath dangling from a belt.” These knives could be used to eat as well as, perhaps, pin someone against a wall. Yet times began to change, knives got duller, which both altered social skills (no picking food out of your teeth with your dagger) as well as the food (the duller the knife, the softer the food). What were these knives made of? Metal, of course. However, most metals have adverse reactions to certain foods, namely fish. This wasn’t resolved until the advent of stainless steel, in the twentieth century, which Wilson calls “another step towards domesticating the knife.”

Read the rest of the review, originally published on the Inquisitive Eater.

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