How Forks Gave Us Overbites: And Other Cooking & Eating Evolutions

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Eating and cooking utensils may make our lives easier and more etiquette-friendly, but they’ve had a few unintentional historical consequences. For example, consider the fork—which, incidentally, is the title of a book by Bee Wilson documenting the evolution of cooking and eating technology. Wilson writes that overbites didn’t become common until people started eating with a knife and fork. Here’s how it happened:

In an interview with The Atlantic, Wilson quotes American anthropologist, C. Loring Brace, who states that prior to 250 years ago human beings had an edge to edge bite (“our teeth were aligned liked a guillotine, with the top layer clashing against the bottom layer”) but that changed once human beings started using cutlery. As Wilson says,

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 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.

Other historical cooking and eating changes: how cooking pots saved the toothless (“pots made it possible for the first time to cook nourishing stew-like meals that required no chewing but could, rather, be drunk. So having teeth was no longer necessary for survival”); how poorly-lined copper pots in the 19th century often led to copper poisoning; and how the invention of the gas oven saved millions from smoke and indoor air pollution previously caused by open-fire cookery.

(Image: Canvas)