consider the fork

by Bee Wilson

Many people think of technology only as involving computers, cars but I repeat myself, robots and such ignoring such things as tool making around cooking- cutlery, pans, cups, pots, spits- name it, that humanity has been in the business of improving since the first man/ woman learnt to cook and serve food to more than one person. The changes in how we cook, eat, store food and all examples of technological change.

And this is where the book by Bee comes in. She has set out on a journey through the evolution of technologies for cooking and eating. Have you imagined who it was that discovered it was possible to boil food? Is this technology intuitive? But beyond that, imagine making a vessel that would withstand heat from fire and not disintegrate because of the water at different temperatures? How much ingenuity was employed in coming up with such a vessel? What thing in nature gave itself to them as an example?

Or think about the first person to light a fire or happen on a fire, and use it to roast food. It is one thing to happen on or light a fire, it is another to think it can be used to make food delicious. It must have taken a lot of trial and error to arrive at the point where we know almost instinctively how to make a good bbq.

Think about the cutting appliances from the different continents and how these affect the way we eat. Of how the Chinese cut their food in cubes suitable for eating with a chopstick or the way of the Europeans where food is served with a thousand appliances, included among them, is a knife that can’t cut gruel! And the anxiety this brings: did I use the right fork? Am I holding the knife properly?

How do you use your microwave? Is it just to defrost and warm food or do use it to cook? How do you measure the potions in your recipe? In a cup or using a weighing machine?

Do you use non stick pans and pots to cook or are you like me who relies on good old stainless steel pots? Or is your pot lined with enamel?

More interestingly, for me, is has the apparatus you use to cook changed what is in your diet? Are there things you don’t eat now because the method or the appliance you used to make it has changed? Or have you introduced new things in the menu because the cooking appliances have been refined allowing for greater possibilities?

Since Bee’s book is concerned mainly with what happens in Europe and just a bit about of Asia, I am interested in the knowledge of how our ancestors cooked, what they ate and all. I know for a long time there were pots for different foods, for storage, for refrigerating water and all. Maybe I should visit the museum to see if these artifacts exist somewhere.

Another question of interest to me, is how much kitchen technology has changed in African homes, especially in the villages where electricity penetration is low, and liquefied petroleum gas is not abundant. Has the construction of the hearth changed to be more economical and efficient like the one at our home (note to self: maybe take a picture next time you go home)

And maybe, the final question, can we, even given the fact that our literature is mainly oral, develop recipes from what our parents made? Are there such special recipes? You know, the Italians have their pasta, the Brits their beef, the Americans their obesity pies.