I just completed a fascinating book called, "Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat", by Bee Wilson. The author details the history of how man has adapted tools to make cooking easier. For instance, she discusses how the hearth used to be the central element of the kitchen, but overtime this was replaced by the refrigerator. Although not a central point of her work, I couldn't help but see how advances in cooking technology have simultaneously helped and hurt us.
While kitchen tools make the work of cooking easier, advances in technology also separate us further and further from food in general. Taking out the work of cooking naturally results in a loss of skill and knowledge about food preparation. Taking out the work of cooking also has health implications. For instance, in her chapter, "Grind", Wilson relates how we used to use a mortar and pestle to grind our food. Now that work is largely done for us. Not only do we lose out on getting some useful arm exercise, but we have easy access to finely ground grains that are highly absorbable and high in glycemic index.
Technological advances also take work out from the process of eating. Wilson makes an argument that the development of the overbite was not an evolutionary development so much as an anthropological one. In medieval times, we used to grab hunks of meat with our bare hands, grasp it between our top and lower teeth, then tear chunks off. However, with the advent of the table-side knife and fork, we could neatly cut up our meat before putting it into our mouths. The introduction of the table-side knife and fork cut out some of the work of chewing and resulted in the development of the overbite.
I don't want technology to distance the relationship my kids have with food. I want my kids to understand how food grows and how food is harvested. I want my kids to learn how to handle, wash, chop, and cook food. Sometimes that means getting down and dirty and eating chicken with their bare hands. And that's exactly what we did on our recent trip to Medieval Times:
Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic Books, 2012.