How Forks Gave Us Overbites and Pots Saved the Toothless
Historical changes in the ways we cook and eat have dramatically altered public health.
Bee Wilson is the author of Consider the Fork, which 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.
you write in the “Pots and Pans” chapter how until the 18th century most families had one big pot, a cauldron, that had a sort of palimpsest porridge in it — they just kept adding new things to cook along with whatever was left over from the day before. So a lot of what people ate was soft. Were there dental changes once other ways of cooking became readily available?
The big dental change that was seen with pots happened with the initial adoption of pottery for cooking around 10, 000 years ago. Until the cooking pot was invented, no one who had lost all their teeth would survive into adulthood. There are no traces of edentulous — toothless — skeletons in any population without pottery. 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. This is another clear example of how utensils have acted as a kind of robotic extension of the human body.