Cooking & humanity

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In the course of anthropological history, several developments served to set humans apart from other mammals: Tools, language, and domestication all played an instrumental role in shaping our evolution. Now, Razib of Gene Expression reviews a recently published book, Catching Fire: How Cooking…
A good selection from The Economist. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective by Robert C. Allen Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity by Mike Hulme Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species by…
A few weeks ago I commented on Richard Wrangham's discussion with Robert Wright. Though most of the conversation was given over to the arguments in Wrangham's latest book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, I focused on the older Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. One of…
The New Scientist's CultureLab blog asked a whole slew of editors and contributors to name a notable 2009 book. It's quite an extensive list. Catching Fire: How cooking made us human by Richard Wrangham Codes of the Underworld: How criminals communicate by Diego Gambetta The Natural History of…

Wrangham has a neat idea and runs with it as far as he possibly can. Too far, in my opinion.

Paleolithic diets are tricky to tease out, evidence from bone, teeth abrasion etc, and a lot of what seems 'just-so' guessing. The evidence from bone material suggests very heavy meat consumption, diets not far from what foxes and wolves ate. And meat doesn't need to be cooked, in fact it loses nutrient value from cooking.

"When we developed the concept of how many calories you needed, the food people were eating was less processed than it is now. "

A couple of things come to mind when reading this, mainly that when the concept of nutritional calories was developed, a much larger portion of the population was employed in agriculture and labor-intensive factory work. When we developed the idea of how many calories we needed, we needed more calories.

It's also not clear from this exactly what he means by "processed."

processed as in "processed food" i think. those sorts of high-carb/sugar foods which have a huge calorie-per-dollar hit.

I haven't read the book or any papers he may have written about this, but aside from eating things raw, there's also curing -- not exactly what we think of when we think "cooking," especially the social bonding part.

That's mostly how meat and fish was "prepared" during recorded history, but it's true among contemporary H-G's as well. The Hadza of Tanzania make jerky out of their meat. Pemmican in North America.

This still involves trusting those nearby not to run off with it, etc., but I don't see the connection to monogamy, marriage, and so on.

And meat doesn't need to be cooked, in fact it loses nutrient value from cooking.

Cooking meat must still have some advantage though - otherwise why are we so thoroughly wired to identify and enjoy the smell of cooked (but not burned) meat? I suppose sterilisation is the obvious explanation.