Monday, August 8, 2011

What Will Happen When Most Don't Cook?

According to Richard Wrangham  in  Catching Fire  How Cooking Made us Human,  cooks are responsible for the changes that led to the development of modern humans from raw-food eating australopithecine ancestors.  Wrangham argues that because cooking unlocks nutrients from food making them more nutritious, (Apologies to raw food advocates who are happy to get few nutrients per unit mass of food consumed.) natural selection favored the survival of individuals who understood how to cook and, since knowing how to cook also means knowing how to use fire, these individuals were crucial in the development of technologies that depend on the controlled release of energy (in other words, all technology).  

If Wrangham is right, every one of us owes our human identity and genome to cooks. It also implies that people who don't cook are opting  out of an activity that is as much a part of what makes us human as the ability to walk up right, speak, make and use tools, anticipate future events and recall and analyze the past. And since the number of people in Western industrial and post-industrial cultures have been abandoning cooking for decades in favor of food cooked by others and machines, one really has to wonder what the long term effect on human evolution  is going to be if the trend continues unabated. 


PrairieGarden-Liane said...

Hopefully the recent interest in growing our own vegetables and/or purchasing organic continues to grow.

After reading your post I can't stop thinking of Charlton Heston and Soylent Green.

Gary Allen said...

Harold McGee wrote an article, years ago (in the now defunct Journal of Gastronomy) about why we developed a taste for cooked food. The gist, as I remember it, is that cooking creates many new flavor compounds than exist in raw food, and that complex flavors are one of the signals that foods (like fruit) have achieved ripeness -- an evolutionary advantage for a creatures that need to get the most nutrition from the things they eat.

Sarah said...

The way some people cook, perhaps this is a good thing.