Saturday, 13 April 2013

The history of food is the history of technology

I've been doing some reading on the Biblical theology of food in preparation for some talks I'm doing this Spring/Summer. Today I came across a great quote on the history of the fork and how it was initially disparaged (in the Middle Ages) and only relatively recently (18th century) came to be widely accepted. Peter Leithart riffing of another Wilson (not Doug) writes this:
“The first true fork on historical record was a two-pronged gold one used by a Byzantine princess who married the doge of Venice in the eleventh century.  St. Peter Damian damned her for ‘excessive delicacy’ in preferring such a rarefied implement to her God-given hands.  The story of this absurd princess and her ridiculous fork was still being told in church circles two hundred years later.”  In some versions, she died as a punishment for eating with a fork (p. 191).  One wonders of Damian wasn’t more concerned about the gold than the fork. 
As late as the early 17th century, “forks were still a joke.  A 1605 book poked fun at Henri III as a “hermaphrodite” so effete that he would “never touch meat with their hands but with fork.”  Henri and his silly friends “would rather touch their mouths with their little forked instruments than with their fingers” (191-2). 
Italians alone adopted the fork early, on account of their taste for pasta.  An Englishman, Thomas Coryate, saw Italians in 1608 holding down their meat with a fork as they cut it.  He found the custom odd, but took a fork home with him and ate with it in England.  His friends Ben Jonson and John Donne teased him as a “furcifer.” 
Over the following century, the fork took off.  Coryate had the last laugh.  By 1700, they were common throughout Europe.  Cromwell used a fork and after the Restoration, eating with fork rather than fingers became the acceptable, refined, civilized way to eat.  At the same time, plates began to replace bowls.  Good thing, since it’s hard to use a fork and knife in a bowl (193). 
Marx recognized the revolutionary impact of cutlery: “The hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail, and tooth” (195).
To read the full thing and to see the blog's heading in context go here

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