Cooking has changed dramatically since our ancestors were ripping raw flesh from between their worn teeth, anchored by a bulging and muscular jaw. A new history of cooking is explained in the new book Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson. The invention of the cooking pot, for example, allowed food to be softened, meaning that those without teeth, like the elderly, could continue to eat. The standard use of utensils has caused it’s own important physiological change: Today, humans have an overbite, in contrast to the arrangement seen in other primates, whose sets of teeth meet directly against each other.
What’s the Big Idea?
The role of cooking technology is often neglected when we speak of major improvements to our way of life. In times when a hearth was the center piece of a house, children were able to stumble into open flame and women’s dresses regularly caught fire. Most crucial, said Wilson, was the gas oven: “The World Health Organization estimates that open cooking fires still kill 1.5 million people every year in the developing world, mostly from respiratory disease. The emergence of gas stoves at the end of the 19th century must have saved millions of lives.”