Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Cooking Animal

Several years ago when I was working at the NCSE, one of the things I thought about a lot was "What makes us human?" I realized that one of the reasons people resist the complex of well-established theories we call evolution is this - everybody wants to be special, and they want humanity to be special, too.

For a while laughter was my favorite distinguishing characteristic. Apes do it - but it's different, on the inhale rather than the exhale - and never loud and hearty. But still it's a continuum - and it seems like anything we can think of that distinguishes our species behaviorally has precedent somewhere among our warm-blooded kin of one sort or another.

But cooking stuck with me as a strong candidate for species specific behavior - something we do as a regular intentional behavior, not just for one kind of food in one situation - like the monkeys of Nagano Olympics fame in their hot springs. Turns out that cooking may have influenced our evolution, and be truly integral to humanity. At least Richard Wrangham thinks so:

And if he's right, cooking may be foundational to what evolved as patriarchy, a sex-linked behavior that kept our early sisters in the kitchen. And we've adapted to cooked food, evolved with our cooking, so that raw food diets are not adequate for us. So much for all those diet books based in faux anthro.

If you, dear reader, have read the book, Catching Fire: how cooking made us human, please comment. The library waiting list is long, and I'm resisting buying books.

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