Saturday, May 07, 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Richard Wrangham has stumbled across a startlingly new concept. It is generally agreed that the ability to tame fire is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, but nobody really questioned exactly how it made us human. We may never know all the details, but Wrangham presents a compelling fresh new look at what made us the way we are.

The book explores the fallacies of a raw food diet and then goes onto present lots of evidence for why Homo sapiens were never designed to eat just raw food. It is widely suggested that an earlier ancestral species found a way to obtain and eat meat (resulting in our first brain size increase), which is a more efficient source of food than a vegetarian diet provides. At some point, our ancestors discovered that using fire made food even more energy efficient and Wrangham believes this is why our ancestors' brains increased a second time less than two million years ago. Why? Simply because cooked food takes less energy for our bodies to digest and use than food in its raw form.

Wrangham goes on to explore how this would explain the changes in our physiology and anatomy, how it would have forced humans to create stronger social bonds, and his belief that the advent of cooking is was also the beginning of the male-female marriage relationships we have today (including why the female was now put in a submissive role). His book is definitely food for thought.

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