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Consider the Fork

A History of How We Cook and Eat

By Bee Wilson
13-minute read
Audio available
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

Eating and cooking have always been crucial to our survival, but over time they have also become a subject of cultural and scientific interest. In Consider the Fork (2012), author Bee Wilson blends history, anthropology and technology to tell the fascinating story of the evolution of cooking, while also taking a closer look at the creation of cooking tools and how they have shaped our culture and eating behavior.

  • Cooking fans and food lovers
  • Anyone interested in the history and development of food
  • People fascinated by the connections between food and culture

Bee Wilson, PhD, is a British historian and food writer. Thanks to her weekly food column “The Kitchen Thinker” in the Sunday Telegraph, she was named food journalist of the year by the Guild of Food Writers in 2004, 2008 and 2009. Her other works include The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us and Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee.

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Consider the Fork

A History of How We Cook and Eat

By Bee Wilson
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Synopsis

Eating and cooking have always been crucial to our survival, but over time they have also become a subject of cultural and scientific interest. In Consider the Fork (2012), author Bee Wilson blends history, anthropology and technology to tell the fascinating story of the evolution of cooking, while also taking a closer look at the creation of cooking tools and how they have shaped our culture and eating behavior.

Key idea 1 of 8

The invention of pots and pans for cooking was one of the greatest breakthroughs in human history.

When we think of cooking, we mostly conjure up images of tasty dishes or recipes rather than considering the history of cooking, or even thinking about how our ability to boil food came to be. But if you think about it, it’s quite intriguing that humans even came up with this technique in the first place.

Archaeologists estimate that the oldest pots ever found date back as far as 10,000 BC, and were created by people inspired by the shells of shellfish and turtles.

Gradually, pots and pans became less rudimentary and, in turn, made cooking more effective.

The majority of the earliest pots were made from clay, which had the disadvantages of tainting the food with a strange flavor, and of the pots themselves being fragile and easily breakable.

Then, around 3,000 years ago, the Mesopotamian people of Egypt and the people China began making pots out of metal. This opened the door to many new methods of cooking; at the same time, pots became easier to clean, didn’t affect the taste of the contents and didn’t crack in the fire.

Far more importantly, though, cooking with pots actually saved lives. Before pots, we had to chew all of our food, meaning that without teeth, one would simply starve to death. And because losing teeth from accidents or illnesses was a common occurrence for millennia, this was a very real threat.

When humans began using pots, we gained the ability to prepare food that didn’t need chewing, like soups, mashed vegetables and porridge. Thus, the humble pot helped many escape death.

Pots and pans also allowed us to eat plants that would otherwise be toxic when raw. Take cassava, or manioc, as an example. These days, manioc is the third-most important source of carbohydrates in tropical regions, but it can only be eaten when cooked properly, since it contains toxic levels of cyanide in its natural state.

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