Consider the Fork: A Food Writer's Cultural History

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

fork Forks are so common, few wonder about their history. (Terry Ross/flickr)

Our relationship with food is an emotional, primal, familial, and cultural one. It’s also one that’s been profoundly shaped by the march of history. From the hearth to the refrigerator and from the mortal and pestle to the Cuisinart, the journey humankind has made to satiate taste buds and nourish bodies is a winding one. 

This is the subject of food writer and historian Bee Wilson’s new book: "Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.” Bee Wilson is the author of two other books; "The Hive: the Story of the Honeybee and Us," and "Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee."

"Some of us feel very affectionate about certain utensils," Wilson says. Even though every chef she has encountered says the knife is the most important tool for cooking, Bee Wilson prefers pots and pans."Knives are still instruments of violence at some level. Where as pots are somehow friendly, aren't they?" 

But knives do say a lot about the difference in styles of cooking, and in cultures. While French cooking involves different knives for nearly every task, Wilson says that Chinese cooking uses only one knife. "A Chinese cook can do absolutely everything — from the most fine, parchment-thin cutting of ginger to a great big hacking of a whole chicken — with this one knife."  

Another difference in cooking cultures is how we measure. Though there are hundreds of tools for measuring — from cups to teaspoons to scales — Wilson thinks that the best tool of all is the cook's own judgment. "I can't pretend that my boiled eggs are always perfect, because there's just always something that can go wrong, isn't there? There are just too many variables in cooking," she says. "It's not really a scientific exercise. But that's the joy of it, because it's so wonderful when it does go right."   


Bee Wilson

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Comments [1]

Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The best tool for measuring is opening up the fridge and seeing what is still available to use, (what vegetables and old bones hasn't gone completely spoiled becomes the stock)...Necessity is the mother of invention...

I gamble with food sometimes. I tried making a chicken salad and tried adding strawberry jelly... I was thinking about how I glaze a corned beef sometimes... Well, the chicken salad didn't work. Still, I eat my mistakes.

I've always collected old bowls, and I prefer eating out of bowls. I see this as my feminine side coming out. I have one knife that I count on for all my cutting.

Oct. 10 2012 01:08 PM

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