Tools for food: the history of how we eat

A new book, Tools for Food: The stories behind objects that influence how and what we eat reveals, the changing nature of our culinary habits

Maccaroni food tool
Drawers from a Frankfurt kitchen
(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

The history of kitchen tools is explored in a new book, Tools for Food: The stories behind objects that influence how and what we eat, from Nashville-born, east London-based writer, curator and producer Corinne Mynatt.

A global history of food utensils

The book explores the history of 250 food tools, ranging from the familiar to the obscure, the useful to the useless. Mynatt takes a closer look at items as diverse as a 4th century Korean fermenting crock and a chic 20th-century Italian lemon juicer, exploring the habits and customs of the societies that used them.

Intertwining history with anecdotes, Mynatt darts back and forth between interesting tidbits and fascinating facts as she addresses each kitchen tool. On graters, she begins with Asia’s intricate bamboo pieces, and explores graters made of tin in 18th-century France – the metal was used as it was tough enough to get through old cheese, thus preventing food waste.

In America, she looks at chemist Earl Tupper’s airtight seal system in the 1940s, which set the scene for today’s Tupperware; and examines Irwin Gershen’s shrimp cleaner, created in 1954 and now part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

red shrimp pickers in a hand


(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

The clean graphic design of the book – by A Practice for Everyday Life, which has worked on projects for clients including the Barbican, Design Museum and Gagosian – makes it a desirable object in its own right. The tome featured in London’s recent Design Festival in collaboration with functional design store Labour and Wait, where it is now available to buy.

‘We have always been fascinated by the panoply of implements involved in the preparation of food, from the everyday to the highly specific, and this is evident in the tools we stock at Labour and Wait,’ says director Simon Watkins. ‘This book sheds light on the history and evolution of myriad wonderful tools from around the world.’

Metal salad basket

Salad basket

(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

glass and steel jugs


(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

wooden circle

Rice trivet

(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

metal peeler

Rex Peeler

(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)

clay salt pig with hand in

Salt pig

(Image credit: Corinne Mynatt)


Tools for Food: The stories behind objects that influence how and what we eat, by Corinne Mynatt, £20

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels. 

With contributions from