August 3, 2013


Why Fire Makes Us Human : Cooking may be more than just a part of your daily routine, it may be what made your brain as powerful as it is (Jerry Adler, June 2013, Smithsonian magazine)

Wherever humans have gone in the world, they have carried with them two things, language and fire. As they traveled through tropical forests they hoarded the precious embers of old fires and sheltered them from downpours. When they settled the barren Arctic, they took with them the memory of fire, and recreated it in stoneware vessels filled with animal fat. Darwin himself considered these the two most significant achievements of humanity. It is, of course, impossible to imagine a human society that does not have language, but--given the right climate and an adequacy of raw wild food--could there be a primitive tribe that survives without cooking? In fact, no such people have ever been found. Nor will they be, according to a provocative theory by Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham, who believes that fire is needed to fuel the organ that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included: the human brain. [...]

Wrangham, who is in his mid-60s, with an unlined face and a modest demeanor, has a fine pedigree as a primatologist, having studied chimpanzees with Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream National Park. In pursuing his research on primate nutrition he has sampled what wild monkeys and chimpanzees eat, and he finds it, by and large, repellent. The fruit of the Warburgia tree has a "hot taste" that "renders even a single fruit impossibly unpleasant for humans to ingest," he writes from bitter experience. "But chimpanzees can eat a pile of these fruits and look eagerly for more." Although he avoids red meat ordinarily, he ate raw goat to prove a theory that chimps combine meat with tree leaves in their mouths to facilitate chewing and swallowing. The leaves, he found, provide traction for the teeth on the slippery, rubbery surface of raw muscle.

Food is a subject on which most people have strong opinions, and Wrangham mostly excuses himself from the moral, political and aesthetic debates it provokes. Impeccably lean himself, he acknowledges blandly that some people will gain weight on the same diet that leaves others thin. "Life can be unfair," he writes in his 2010 book Catching Fire, and his shrug is almost palpable on the page. He takes no position on the philosophical arguments for and against a raw-food diet, except to point out that it can be quite dangerous for young children. For healthy adults, it's "a terrific way to lose weight."

Which is, in a way, his point: Human beings evolved to eat cooked food. [...]

Unsurprisingly, Wrangham's theory appeals to people in the food world. "I'm persuaded by it," says Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, whose opening chapter is set in the sweltering, greasy cookhouse of a whole-hog barbecue joint in North Carolina, which he sets in counterpoint to lunch with Wrangham at the Harvard Faculty Club, where they each ate a salad. "Claude Lévi-Strauss, Brillat-Savarin treated cooking as a metaphor for culture," Pollan muses, "but if Wrangham is right, it's not a metaphor, it's a precondition." [...]

We are, of course, animals, but that doesn't mean we have to eat like one. In taming fire, we set off on our own evolutionary path, and there is no turning back. We are the cooking animal.

The egomania that led Darwinists to refuse to believe that Man had been Created by a superior being is perfectly understandable, if irrational.  No less so is their almost inevitable refusal to believe that Nature had evolved us and their eventual arrival at a belief that we evolved ourselves.

Posted by at August 3, 2013 10:11 AM

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