Oliver Goldsmith considered that "of all other animals we spend the least time in eating; this is one of the great distinctions between us and the brute creation". In Wrangham published the first version of the hypothesis in Current Anthropology. Overview[ edit ] Humans species in the genus homo are the only animals that cook their food and Wrangham argues Homo erectus emerged about two million years ago as a result of this unique trait. Cooking had profound evolutionary effect because it increased food efficiency which allowed human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting. Wrangham also argues that cooking and control of fire generally affected species development by providing warmth and helping to fend off predators which helped human ancestors adapt to a ground-based lifestyle.
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This book is a bit like that. The repast culminates in a series of idiosyncratic amuses-bouches, with claims that cooking led to our leaving the trees, to sex roles, to marriage, to emotional restraint, to consciousness, and to society itself which seems unlikely even if Gordon and Barack did bond in a New York kitchen. He takes us from the amaranth to the zucchini of gustatory biology. Some of his facts are eccentric: in New Guinea, "if a man takes his sago fork out of his hair.
Many more are intriguing. The BBC once persuaded a dozen people with high blood pressure to go on an Evo Diet — to eat like chimps — at Paignton zoo. Raw cucumbers did wonders for their blood pressure, but although they stuffed themselves the experimental apes all lost weight. There are lots of "raw-foodists" in Germany and although some are happy to eat uncooked meat they, too, shed pounds and their women cease to ovulate which, in evolutionary terms, is bad news. The uncooked diet is, even so, a help to slimmers and those with obese dogs might persuade them to Barf — to eat biologically appropriate raw food — which is healthier than the boiled muck they are usually fed.
Homo sapiens is the culinary primate. Compared to apes, we are gutless; small mouths, weak jaws, modest stomachs and a large intestine only half the size of that of our relatives. Cooking means that food is in part digested before it gets into our mouths. They need lots of chewing too. Boiling and frying, as Mrs Beeton put it, "render mastication easy".
We spend no more than an hour a day chewing which leaves plenty of time for doing other things , while chimps grind their teeth for more than half their waking hours. Mastication works, for experiments with tame pythons show that pureed rats are digested more effectively than those in their native state.
More important, heat frees up lots of good stuff for our own use. Internal liquids sucked from patients with a hole in the small intestine show that we digest cooked starch far better than raw starch. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his muscular days swallowed raw eggs for breakfast and the recommended dose for a body-builder was three dozen a day but he would have become even beefier had they been boiled first.
Primates with smaller guts have larger brains and brains are expensive , and ours is the smallest of all, probably because cooking liberated our intestines from a large part of the drudgery of digestion. The spare energy went straight to our heads. If so, the first Mrs Beeton was not yet human and there has certainly been some evolutionary backtracking among her televisual descendants.
However, the recent excitement about Ardipithecus, our 4. The problem with making grand theories about the past is that they often rest on too few facts.
In spite of the tasty morsels scattered through this book, towards its end Wrangham sinks — like so many before him — into the swamp of sociobiological speculation. In the words of the starving through the centuries: give us bread!
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham