Daily Archives: September 25, 2009

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

catchingfireWatching over a kettle of simmering chili sauce for three hours last weekend provided plenty of time to ponder the nature of cooking — how far removed modern life usually feels from actual fire, and how dependent we remain on its heat.

These musings were inspired by the recently published Catching Fire, authored by biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham. In 207 pages, Catching Fire tells a story of human history centered on food modified by flame. Wrangham’s idea that cooking made us human departs radically from previous evolutionary theory.

Before Wrangham, the evolutionary change credited with development of the large human brain was the addition of meat to a strictly vegetable diet. Darwin thought fire was irrelevant to how humans evolved. Even a century after Darwin, anthropologists regarded cooking as unnecessary to human development, though they understood that cooking is one defining activity that separates us from other animals.

Wrangham writes that cooking increased our food’s value. It affected the way we walk, the size of our brains, how we spend time, and helped define our social lives.

A toast to Richard Wrangham and his ideas that season my thoughts about the place of cooking in my life. And please, pass the chili sauce.

-Julie


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