Byline: Jemima Lewis
Consider The Fork
by Bee Wilson
Particular Books [pounds sterling]20 [pounds sterling]16.99 inc p&p *****
The only bit of this book that doesn't quite come up to scratch is the name. Consider The Fork sounds like a Victorian guide to table manners, or a booklet for finishing-school girls. But Bee Wilson's history of kitchen inventions is far more substantial and entertaining than that.
Her subject is the 'technology' of cooking: everything from the wooden spoon to the Magimix, the cauldron to the fridge. If that sounds a little esoteric, think again. The way we cook, indeed, the fact that we cook at all, has fundamentally altered the course of human history.
Had our ancestors not worked out how to build a fire and to roast meat over it, we would be very different creatures. Cooking makes food easier to digest, releasing more nutritional value per mouthful; cooked food gave early humans the surplus energy they needed to grow bigger brains. Roast meat, in other words, helped us develop the quality that most defines us: our intelligence.
The history of culinary invention is written on our bodies. Evidence from skeleton remains suggest that, until about 10,000 years ago, no one who had lost their teeth survived to adulthood. If you couldn't chew, you starved.
The creation of clay cooking pots - in which cultivated grains could be boiled into a soft mush - enabled humans to live into middle age and beyond, and transformed us from huntergatherers into farmers.
Even now, the tools with which we feed ourselves have the power to change our behaviour and our bodies.
Modern orthodontics, for instance, is largely concerned with creating a perfect 'overbite': the top layer of teeth hanging neatly over the bottom, 'like a lid on a box'.
But this only became the 'normal' alignment of the human jaw in the past 250 years; Wilson says it is almost certainly the result of how we use a knife and fork.
Previously, we had an 'edge-to-edge' bite like a chimpanzee, with top and bottom teeth clashing directly against each other. This was useful when the usual method of eating was to grab a chunk of roasted animal with one hand, clamp one end in your teeth and pull. The top and bottom incisors needed to meet in …