★ ★ ★
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson | January 2012 | Basic Books | Hardcover $26.99
Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.
In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely ever give much thought to the basic technologies that facilitate (or complicate) my cooking and dining experiences. I mean, whoever actually does consider the fork? Bee Wilson, apparently.
This book includes some fascinating insights, like the details of the mid-century kitchens on display at the exhibition where Nixon and Khrushchev had their Kitchen Debate discussions over the merits of communism vs. capitalism in the context of model American homes. And there was quite a lot of detail included about each featured technology, from the long evolution of the “simple” table knife to the quite literally life-saving advent of refrigeration.
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So, yes, the information presented in this book is interesting and the writing certainly isn’t bad, but something about the flow of it all didn’t click for me. The book felt, at times, more like a collection of essays than a comprehensive history of food tech, and at other times it seemed to ramble and drift from whatever point or thesis the author was trying to get at. But, again, I think that’s more of a stylistic preference issue than a quality issue.
I do wish there had been more in the way of footnotes or endnotes. I suppose, given the extensive bibliography tacked on at the end of the book and the author’s professional reputation, that it must have been very well-researched. I guess I just prefer the more academic way of citing things when it comes to nonfiction like this.
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The only thing that really rubbed me the wrong way was the low-level but pervasive snark towards whatever cooking techniques/attitudes the author isn’t fond of. I don’t agree with her idea that cooking isn’t really (or shouldn’t be) a science — because ignoring all the science (accidental or otherwise) that goes into producing a meal is willfully, well, ignorant.
I also really don’t care how silly she thinks the American way of using cups and other volume measures rather than metric weight is — that’s how we do it and it’s a ridiculous thing to make an issue of. Americans are happy to put our flour in measuring cups, pour gravy over our biscuits, and dump your stupid tea straight into the harbor.
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I’m afraid that’s all I have to say about Consider the Fork. My brain is feeling a bit fuzzy lately (blame it on allergies, terrible sleep habits, measuring cups, or whatever) and it’s all I could do to concentrate on this book long enough to make it through a chapter or so at a time. But I’m glad I read it and get to count it towards my Foodies Read challenge this year.
- Official website of Consider the Fork
- New Yorker review
- Washington Post review
- The Atlantic review
- Author interview at NPR
This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.
Publication information: Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic Books, 2012. Print.
Source: Purchased from public library used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.