•Cooking, a unique and essential human thing, is actually what made us human.
•Even before civilization, people were unique among apes in having low mortality and long lives.
Human beings will almost certainly evolve to live longer, but the rate at which processed foods are becoming more popular than homemade meals is alarming.
Even before civilization, people were unique among apes in having low mortality and long lives.
Hunter-gatherers armed with spears and bows could defend against predators; food sharing prevented starvation.
The invention of fire birthed cooking. Our ancestors used it to cook, which afforded them more calories than eating raw foods that were hard to chew and digest.
Cooking, a unique and essential human thing, is actually what made us human, among other adaptations.
In his work, Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University and the author of ‘Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human’, he suggested that cooking led to advantageous changes in human biology, such as larger brains.
He argues that the control of fire allowed early hominids to not only cook their food, but obtain warmth, allowing them to shed body hair and in turn run faster without overheating; to develop calmer personalities, enabling social structures around the hearth; and even to form relationships among men and women–in short, to become human.
“My day job is studying chimpanzees in the wild, and I have often studied feeding behavior. I have tried to survive on what chimps eat,” he said.
Wrangham’s ideas follow the expensive-tissue hypothesis. That concept predicts an inverse relationship between brain size and gut size–to accommodate a large, human-sized brain, our guts shrank relative to our primate cousins. Imagine the pot belly of a gorilla, Wrangham notes.
This paper doesn’t even address gut size, just the requirements of our hungry brains.
“If I don’t have any food with me, I just eat what they eat. And that told me that what they eat is totally unsatisfying,” he continued. “I thought about what would happen if humans had to live like chimps. And that took me very rapidly to the conclusion, within a few minutes, that as long as we’ve been human, it’s hard to imagine how we could live on raw food.”
“In order to be able to apply a sufficient number of calories to the brain, you have to be able to cook your food,” Wrangham said.
“You can only afford to have a brain if you can supply a lot of energy to it.
Did cooking change our preference?
Whether it is adaptation or preference, if you are used to eating raw cabbage and someone gives you cooked cabbage and you like it, what will happen.
Harold McGee, author of the definitive On Food and Cooking, thinks there is an inherent appeal in the taste of cooked food, especially so-called Maillard compounds.
These are the aromatic products of the reaction of amino acids and carbohydrates in the presence of heat, responsible for the tastes of coffee and bread and the tasty brown crust on a roast.
“When you cook the food you make, its chemical composition is more complex,” McGee says.
“What’s the most complex natural, uncooked food? Fruit, which is produced by plants specifically to appeal to animals. I used to think it would be interesting to know if humans are the only animals that prefer cooked food, and now we’re finding out it’s a very basic preference.”
We admit that cooked food tastes better than raw and researchers suggest that cooking, gives humans more energy.
The idea is that raw food just does not provide enough calories.
You have to get out more than you put in, and raw food takes a lot more work (meaning calories) for your muscles and organs to chew and digest, resulting in a net decrease in the number of calories available for the rest of your cells.
Maybe it did not change our preference but it definitely changed how we look, our dental formula changed from eating softer foods.
Should we change our cooking methods?
In taming fire, we set off on our own evolutionary path, and there is no turning back. We are the cooking animal.
According to a review published in November 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, thickeners, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners may affect immune function, and contribute to metabolic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
"We have adapted to this modern lifestyle of processed foods, canned and sugars everywhere," said John Durant, author of the blog Hunter-Gatherer.com.
"This is why we're seeing lots of major health concerns."
Perhaps adapting to the Paleo-diet; the raw foodists, which entails taking a step back in the evolutionary food chain and eating, literally, like a caveman.
That culinary lifestyle that involves lots of meat, fresh organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries, and nothing processed is the answer.
is at odds with modern meals, which tend to offer thousands of calories, are readily available, and can be eaten quickly.
"In terms of evolutionary biology," said Durant, "we spent far longer as hunter-gatherers than anything else. So what does our metabolism recognize and process well? We're best adapted to eat like our natural ancestors."
Eating like our ancestors may prevent modern diseases of overconsumption, but cooking is, after all, what drove our evolution this far.