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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat - Bee Wilson

I genuinely loved this book; it was interesting, well-written and I learned quite a bit.  It would have been a 5 star read except that the author hit one of my raw nerves and stated as fact something that just flat out isn't.  But more on that in a bit.


The book is split up by chapters based on the general points that make all food preparation, more or less, possible:  Pots and Pans, Knife, Fire, Measure, Grind, etc.  The chapters are each quite long - it's a 280 page book with 8 chapters - so while a chapter per sitting was doable, I found it easier to do half a chapter or so a night.  The information is written conversationally, and is aimed at anyone interested in history from an anthropological POV; I'm not overly fond of cooking, but I was intrigued all the same. 


I don't want to over-emphasise this, because truly, it could be my own perception.  But I'm going to mention it: I picked up a faint anti-US vibe in the author's writing.  She's based in the UK and the book itself is meant to be a general (broad) world history of cooking and eating, but there's a lot of focus on the US.  Generally, she does a good job of remaining neutrally engaging, but I kept picking up a very faint vibe of disdain.


How did the author blow that 5th star?  Well, here is where I dust off and drag out my soap box.  I'll try to keep my rant concise.  The author blows it right here with this quote, on page 122:


"The United States is today one of only three countries not to have officially adopted the French metric system."


WRONG.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.


The following facts* the author could have ascertained from a quick query of the google:


1.  In 1866, Congress legalized [metric] use in an act reading:

It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system... 


2.  In 1875, the U.S. was one of the original signers of the Treaty of the Meter, which established the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). This agency administers the official version of the metric system.


3.  In 1893, Thomas C. Mendenhall, then Superintendent of Weights and Measures in the Treasury Department, concluded that the metric standards as defined by BIPM, should become the standards for all measurement in the U.S.  With the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, this decision was made and published; it has since been called the Mendenhall Order.


4.  In 1901, Congress established the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In 1964, NBS announced:

Henceforth it shall be the policy of the National Bureau of Standards to use the units of the International System (SI), as adopted by the 11th General Conference of Weights and Measures, except when the use of these units would obviously impair communication or reduce the usefulness of a report.


5.  Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 and in 1988, Congress passed the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, which designates "the metric system of measurement as the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce."  Among many other things, the act requires federal agencies to use metric measurements in nearly all of their activities, although there are still exceptions allowing traditional units to be used in documents intended for consumers.


 "So," I can hear all the non-Americans out there saying, "wtf do you Yanks keep using inches, miles and pounds?!?!"  No, really, I can actually hear you - it's the second most asked thing this ex-pat hears, almost daily, living in Australia.  Well, this is the kicker:  "The U.S. adopted the metric system in 1866. What the U.S. has failed to do is to restrict or prohibit the use of traditional units in areas touching the ordinary citizen: construction, real estate transactions, retail trade, and education."*


Our official system of measurement is metric and has been since 1866.  But Americans are not legally required to use it.  And we don't because the vast majority like our inches, miles and pounds.  I remember learning all about the metric system in school, I agree it's very logical, even beautiful in its simplicity.  Stunningly easy to use.  But my internal, physical, world-view is based on these miles and pounds and I'm sure the vast majority of Americans are in the same boat.  Think of it as an eccentricity.  ;)


*Source: http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/usmetric.html


In spite of this woeful lack of research on the part of the author (and truly, she should be embarrassed), I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the tools we take for granted in the kitchen each day.  I learned a neat trick about cooking beef, and I'm curious about sous-vide now, among other things.  And I totally want to get my hands on a Mrs. Marshall's Patent Freezer - home made ice cream in 5 minutes - how has this languished in obscurity for so long??