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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cook! Eat! Evolve!

Sarah Karnasiewicz writes:

Animals of the genus Homo are defined by their little mouths, large guts, big brains -- and appetite for bratwurst. This, at least, is the provocative theory of evolution put forth by Dr. Richard Wrangham in his fascinating new book, "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human."

Wrangham, the Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, began his career studying chimpanzees alongside Jane Goodall, and rose to academic acclaim as a primatologist specializing in the roots of male aggression. Naturally, he tends to think of most scientific questions in relation to chimps. And so it was that a few years ago, while sitting in front of his fireplace preparing a lecture on human evolution, he wondered, "What would it take to turn a chimpanzee-like animal into a human?" The answer, he decided, was in front of him: fire to cook food.

For years, accepted wisdom has held that it was a transition to meat eating that prompted human evolution -- which makes Wrangham's hypothesis a radical departure. Yet, the more he tested his theory, the more he found the science to back it up: Cooked food is universally easier to process and more nutritionally dense than raw food, which means adopting a cooked diet would have given man a biological advantage. The energy he once spent consuming and digesting raw food could be diverted to other physiological functions, leading to the development of bigger bodies and brains. And Wrangham's "cooking hypothesis" not only explains the physical changes that humans underwent but also the social ones: Cooking created a sexual division of labor that informs our ideas of gender, love, family and marriage even to this day. "Humans are adapted to eating cooked food in the same essential way as cows adapted to eating grass, or fleas to sucking blood," Wrangham concludes. "And the results pervade our lives, from our bodies to our minds. We humans are the cooking apes, the creatures of the flame."

link: How cooking makes you a man | Salon Life


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