Wednesday, December 09, 2009

cooking and evolution



a number of years ago, when my father-in-law was still alive, i sent him an article from the new york times on how cooking had pushed evolution. he was the inventor and first professor of technolution, the study of how technologies have pushed evolution, so i always had an eye out for articles and books that explored such themes. his thinking about the article resulted in the illumination above, which hangs in my kitchen, right near my stove. peter had developed a pictorial language through which he expressed the concepts. all of the drawings have human figures and a circle within a square inspired by davinci's vetruvian man.

harvard anthropologist richard wrangham has written a book called catching fire in which he explores the importance of cooking to human development. peter would have been so interested to read it (he died just after new year's four years ago). what's interesting is that wrangham pushes back the cooking a lot farther in time than has previously been postulated (tho' you can see from peter's illumination that he thought that too). he says that already 1.9-1.8 million years ago, on the cusp between australopithecus and homo erectus, our ancestors began to cook. further, the relationships created around the hearth between men and women were essential for our development into the evolutionary stage we've reached today.

cooking our food, especially meat, gives us quicker access to the nourishment and the energy it brings with it. wrangham argues that our small teeth, small stomach and relatively short intestinal system point to food being cooked much earlier than previously thought. already as homo erectus, we were cooking, he postulates. and it was important that while the men were out hunting, the women were at home tending the fire, so it would be ready when the men returned with the meat. of course, the women also learned to cook roots and things while they were waiting around for the meat to be delivered. i've read only a review of the book, not the actual book, but it's on my amazon wish list for sure and i'm anxious to read more.

interestingly the roles haven't changed all that much. tho' today's men can do some cooking too, it is still a task that falls largely on women's shoulders. and i know that our nightly meal is an essential part of our day, something that mostly i prepare, tho' husband is very helpful in the kitchen. we eat together, as a family, around the table. and although it's much easier on us what with kitchen aid mixers and smeg stoves and such, maybe it's not all that different than our distant ancestors. i do wish peter was here to discuss it.

6 comments:

Eternally Distracted said...

Very thought provoking. I agree, the evening meal is an integral part of my day...although I hadn't really thought about it until now.

Bill Stankus said...

There's theory that the domestication of dogs was of evolutionary value to humans. First, all dogs have descended from wolves so the first domestic dogs were some snarling critters.

They were protective of small groups of humans, with keen eyes they could see further and thus warn of dangers. Ditto their sense of smell.

And what idiot would want to rob or hurt a group of humans camping in open country when fierce dogs were there? This oneupmanship permitted better sleep, safer passage during migrations, etc.

So I suppose it was dogs who provided the extra time for humans to learn how to eat better.

Dogs, human's best friends.

Char said...

uh, what?

meat good

B said...

Not in my house: the man cooks! Although it may be more out of necessity than anything else, as I must confess that cooking bores me so I don't do it unless I really have to, or unless I have a whole day to prepare something special, then I enjoy it!
(I hope you're still talking to me after that confession.)
Anyway, the idea of cooking pushing evolution is very interesting, so maybe I should rethink my non cooking?

Snap said...

Loved this post, but you talked to my cultural anthro background! Not too long ago I read "The Best Thing I Ever Taster: The Secret of Food" by Sallie Tisdale. I decided to read it because it is used as a textbook in a college English class that I used to give tours of the museum for/with (Food and Feasting in art -- fun!). I decided that it might be a good thing if I read one of the books they were using in class to see how *far off* my tours were (I did a pretty good job tying in to their class -- another story). Back to the book -- well done and interesting look on *modern foods*, advertising, frozen foods, television.One of my favorite partial quotes: ... "Food fills many empty spaces. It can be symbolic, mythic, even archetypal - and nothing special. How we feel about food is how we feel about our own lives ....." I've added the book to the bookcase holding the cookbooks. Tisdale is a Buddhist and has written on women in Buddhism (also interesting). I got carried away, didn't I?!!!!!!!

PS ... Love Sabin's monocules!

Snap said...

PS ... That should be "The Best Thing I Ever TASTED" ... argggghhh.