Today’s New York Times includes a short, but fascinating interview, “A Conversation with Richard Wrangham: From Studying Chimps, a Theory on Cooking.”
What caught my attention was his theory, which he apparently expands on in his upcoming book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” that cooking, rather than tool making and meat eating, was the main factor in man’s early evolution.
…our large brain and the shape of our bodies are the product of a rich diet that was only available to us after we began cooking our foods. It was cooking that provided our bodies with more energy than we’d previously obtained as foraging animals eating raw food.
Studying modern chimpanzees, he noticed that much of the chimps diet consisted of “extremely fibrous foods,” which required a lot of time sitting around chewing. According to Mr. Wrangham, once early humans learned to cook, their evolution accelerated since their diet was now “richer, healthier and required less eating time.”
Sounds like fast food has been around a lot longer than I thought. Perhaps Eric Schlosser needs to write a prequel to Fast Food Nation.
There are clearly differences between earlier fast (“less eating time”) food and today’s highly efficient and arguably unsustainable cousin is community.
…once you had communal fires and cooking and a higher-calorie diet, the social world of our ancestors changed, too. Once individuals were drawn to a specific attractive location that had a fire, they spent a lot of time around it together. This was clearly a very different system from wandering around chimpanzee-style, sleeping wherever you wanted, always able to leave a group if there was any kind of social conflict.
Now compare these community oriented, almost slow food type eating experiences with today’s fast food diet:
[Author asked if today’s man has adapted to McDonald’s, pizza] I think we’re adapted to our diet. It’s that our lifestyle is not. We’re adapted in the sense that our bodies are designed to maximize the amount of energy we get from our foods. So we are very good at selecting the foods that produce a lot of energy. However, we take in far more than we need. That’s not adaptive.
What really amazes me is that today’ man, with our vast technologies and industries, can’t figure out how to get families to spend a lot of time together eating richer, healthier food. Is it possible that our industrial food system doesn’t care about such things? Regardless, what is the significance of American’s either eating out or eating prepared meals nearly half the time? Is this putting the species at risk of devolving?
OK, so I’m having a little fun with this. There are serious problems in our food system and I believe that reversing our migration away from our kitchens and being able to cook sustainable foods has the potential to be the “main factor” in improving our health and the health of our planet, building stronger regional economies, and strengthening our families.
A tall order, but far better than the typical response of throwing technology at the problem.
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