Five inventions that changed how we eat

Simon Majumdar
by Simon Majumdar  |  26 April 2011  |   4 comments

Find out about five inventions that have revolutionised our culinary lives.

Five inventions that changed how we eat

Two of the more obvious things that separate man from the delicious beasts of the field are our constant search for knowledge and equally insatiable desire to understand the world around us.  In part this passion has resulted in our quest for scientific discovery and in part our constant need to improve our lives by benefit of invention.  Both have had considerable impact on the way we eat today. 

From the first time one of our ancestors realised that a sharpened stick was more efficient than a rock when killing his dinner, man has put his ability to invent to very good use. It has changed the way we grow, raise, prepare and even eat our food from one generation to the next. 

If you doubt me, just think how different our tables might look if Thomas Coryate had not brought forks to Britain after a journey to Italy in 1608.  Or, indeed how much more laborious it would be to make that necessary afternoon cup of tea if Crompton & Co had not put the first electric kettle on the market in 1891. 

Some inventions are more useful than others of course and for every essential item that we turn to from day to day there are hundreds that are now gathering dust in kitchen cabinets all over the world.  I for one have yet to use the egg poaching pan or rubber tube garlic peeler I was given as well intentioned but utterly useless presents and I am sure you can list many more. 

Despite that, there are still many food related inventions without which our lives would be a much more dreary place.  Below are my five suggestions for inventions that have changed the way we eat for the better. 

The sandwich

This is a very personal choice as I am one of the most dedicated fans of the portable snack.  Although the name was derived from a request for bread between meat by the inveterate gambler John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, sandwiches in one form or another date back to the 1st Century BC.  Rabbi, Hillel the Elder ate chopped nuts and apples between two slices of matzoh.  Without the noble efforts of men like this we would not have the hamburger or the chip butty and I would be very sad. 

Vending machines

Believe it or not, the first vending machine dates back to 215BC when Greek mathematician, Hero of Alexandria developed a way of dispensing holy water at Egyptian temples.  In 1880, the first commercial vending machines began to appear and it was in the early part of the 20th Century that they became a regular way of dispensing food.  Now it is barely possible to walk more than a few paces without passing a food vending machine.  In the Netherlands Automatiek, snack bars based around them are still popular and in Tokyo alone there are over six million machines spurting out food and drink. 

The microwave

In 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer was working on the creation of a new vacuum tube called the Magnetron.  He noticed that during the experiment, the bar of chocolate in his pocket had begun to melt and experimented to see what the effect of the machines rays were on other foods.  They were much the same and Dr. Spencer had inadvertently created the microwave oven.  The millions of machines sold since its invention speak to its importance to the way we cook.  Although it is now often used for little more than heating up a cold cup of coffee, I add the microwave to my list for no other reason than it is the best way to cook bacon.  Reason enough. 

The gun

This may be a controversial choice given the less positive uses of guns.  However, there can be no denying the importance of rifle and bullet on the way we eat, for both good and bad reasons.  On the one hand it increased hunting efficiency allowing communities to thrive, while on the other hand it also allowed for over hunting, as was the case with the American buffalo, taken to the edge of extinction in the early part of the 20th Century. 

The Internet

As it has with just about every aspect of our lives, the Internet has impacted on the way we eat. It is now the first place we turn to for recipes, restaurant reviews and increasingly even to purchase our food.  In future, it will also be the way we watch cookery programmes and without it we would not have websites like this one or food related blogs, which at the last count were over 10,000 in number.  

Also worth your attention:

Five Scientific Discoveries That Changed How We Eat