Saturday, July 06, 2013

Richard Wrangham: Catching Fire - How Cooking Made Us Human

I was sitting outside with our neighbours one evening the other week, while the kids were playing/whining, and we started talking about books. Mr Neighbour is more of a fact than a fiction reader, and started talking about this book he'd recently read - probably the conversation had turned to Lasse Berg's books? - and he promptly ran up and fetched it for me to read. So I have, although I have been really tired recently and stressed what with working my final days at my old job and fretting about having to learn the ropes of a new one, so I probably haven't done it justice.

Wrangham's hypothesis is that cooking is what made us humans (more specifically evolved us into Homo Erectus). Cooking makes it possible to get more energy out of food with less effort. He cites several studies showing that this is true for both humans and other animals (but we are the only animals that have learned to cook). Drawing parallells to how our present-day close ape relations live, he shows that eating raw food takes an enormous amount of time to both chew and digest, leaving no time for evolving into something smarter. While the traditional idea is that we started to evolve into humans because we started to eat meat, Wrangham writes that raw meat is too energy-consuming to digest for any evolution to happen because of that alone. He also points out that we can thrive on cooked vegetable food alone - on raw food diets though we don't get enough energy. On pure raw food diets humans lose their ability to reproduce, which is not an evolutionary advantage. In other words it must be cooking that is responsible for our development, and we must have tamed fire earlier than has previously been thought.

Very interesting, solid arguments (although I did think he sort of skipped a step at some point or another? but that might have been me being too tired when reading). There's something like 200 pages of text and then 80 of sources. Solid.

However, I will admit that it has mostly convinced me that if maybe I tried a raw food diet I'll lose those surplus ten kilos WIN.

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