The Evolution of Cooking and Eating

Posted by M ws On Monday, January 21, 2013 0 comments
The following article How Forks Gave Us Overbites and Pots Saved the Toothless by Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork, documents the evolution of cooking and eating technology. In the book, Wilson describes many unintended consequences of new methods of or materials for cooking and eating. Here she talks about some of the health ramifications of such changes.

Excerpt from the article originally published HERE:

I was struck while reading your book by how changes in the instruments we use to cook and eat can have large-scale health implications. It's especially fascinating that overbites didn't become standard until we all started eating with a knife and fork. Can you describe how that happened?

Yes, I found to be this one of the most fascinating and surprising changes to be brought about by kitchen utensils.

Until around 250 years ago in the West, archaeological evidence suggests that most human beings had an edge-to-edge bite, similar to apes. In other words, our teeth were aligned liked a guillotine, with the top layer clashing against the bottom layer. Then, quite suddenly, this alignment of the jaw changed: We developed an overbite, which is still normal today. The top layer of teeth fits over the bottom layer like a lid on a box.

This change is far too recent for any evolutionary explanation. Rather, it seems to be a question of usage. An American anthropologist, C. Loring Brace, put forward the thesis that the overbite results from the way we use cutlery, from childhood onwards.

What changed 250 years ago was the adoption of the knife and fork, which meant that we were cutting chewy food into small morsels before eating it. Previously, when eating something chewy such as meat, crusty bread or hard cheese, it would have been clamped between the jaws, then sliced with a knife or ripped with a hand -- a style of eating Professor Brace has called "stuff-and-cut."

The clincher is that the change is seen 900 years earlier in China, the reason being chopsticks.

As with any such thesis, we will probably never have definitive proof that the overbite results from the adoption of the fork, but it does seem the best fit with the evidence.

The first time I read Brace's work, I was truly astonished. So often, we assume that the tools we use for eating are more or less irrelevant -- at most, a question of manners. I found it remarkable that they could have this graphic impact on the human body.

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