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Book Review: Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson is an interesting book on the history of the technology of cooking and eating. She is attempting to fill a perceived void in food history books: while there are plenty of books on the ingredients and recipes of history, there are very few books on the equipment used to prepare and eat those ingredients and recipes. While this book does fill this void in an informative and entertaining way, she has not closed off this void. Large portions of the book concern themselves with the technological changed wrought in the last 2 centuries, and the focus is very European (Asia seems to be reduced to the wok, the tou, chopsticks, and the electric rice cooker, and it's as if no technology is used in Africa at all). The book is fascinating to read -- it's only when looking back do the holes appear.

The book's primary division is based on technology, not time or place. The first chapter discusses the history of pots and pans, the third "fire" (or heating technology), leaving the necessary interplay between what gets heated and how it gets heated to be somewhat split between the two chapters. The second chapter discusses knives and their evolution and use, including both table and kitchen usages, while the discussions of spoons and forks at the dinner table waits until chapter 6. Food preservation is mainly discussed in the chapter "Ice", which is mainly concerned about the changes brought about by the advent of refrigeration over the last 200 years -- which means canning, brining, smoking pickling, fermenting, drying, etc gets restricted to just a small handful of pages. It seems odd that a book on the history of cooking technology misses such a historically important aspect of the history of how we cooked and ate.

While she mentions many times that the available technology shapes the foods eaten, and vice-versa, the discussion of individual technologies divorced from their overall context robs the ability to explore this interplay in detail. One rarely gets a sense of how meals were prepared and eaten at any particular place and time, nor how advances in one kitchen technology caused changes in others. This, I feel, was somewhat of a lost opportunity.

All in all, it was a good read, but it left plenty of room for other books on the same topic.