Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Creatures of the Flame: Cooking and Evolution

Very interesting piece in Salon today on the role of cooking in evolution. The big difference between us and the chimps are not so much the thumbs but the cooking of meat. Cooked food is denser in nutrition, so the efficiencies of cooking gave our predecessors advantages over the non-cookers and facilitated the development of our brains (imagine zombie reference here).

Yes, you do quite a convincing job of arguing that a purely raw diet cannot sustain an active human. Do you believe that we have evolved to a point where a raw diet is fundamentally against our biology?

Yes, I suppose I do. If I hesitate, it is because I certainly recognize that raw foodists who live in an urban area of a well-to-do nation can make it work, so it's not that much against our biology. But I do feel very confident now that going off into the wild and living like a hunter-gatherer on raw food is not possible. People who switch to a raw diet report feeling constant hunger and lose large amounts of weight, even when they are careful to take in at least the nutritionally suggested number of calories a day for an adult. Basically, all the studies show that over the long term, a strictly raw diet cannot guarantee an adequate energy supply for our bodies. In other words, raw foodism is against our biology in a state of nature.

It gets even more interesting/controversial--after some snippingl:

So the concept of marriage began fundamentally not as about power or sex, but food?

Yes, though that would mean that women always do the cooking, and when I first started down this path, I wasn't at all sure that was the case. So, I went to the anthropological literature, and sure enough, I found reports of societies where men did the cooking. But then I dug into it more carefully -- and I discovered that, in the cases where the anthropologists claimed the men had done the cooking, the scientists had been wrong. In every single society women cook for men. And, what's more fascinating, in many societies you can really say that food or domestic promiscuity is far more serious than sexual promiscuity. In other words, it's more of a breach of social convention for a woman to feed the wrong man than it is for her to have sex with him.

Hmmn. Suggests all kinds of new plot twists in the average soap opera or drama. But what I really want to know now is why do men do most of the barbecuing these days? Anyone?

And, what does this say about the current generation of men-folk? During grad school, it seemed that in every couple, the man was as good as the woman in the kitchen and even better in some cases. It would be immodest for me to say that I am a better cook than my wife, but not necessarily untrue. So, does that make me un-evolved? Regressing or post-evolution?


Phil L said...

Dang. I do all the cooking in my marriage. Now I feel like an athropological anomoly.

KathyS said...

Men do the barbequeing because there were cultural rituals built into the hunt and the cooking of meat from the hunt for the whole tribe. It was a manhood ritual for the guys who hunted the mammoth to cook the mammoth, with the tribe leaders often commanding the ceremonies. Later on in civilization, when there were festivals, it was the men who would roast the cow on a spit in the public square, (after the meat had been prepped by the women.) In Hawaii, it's the guys who bury the pig in the smoking pit and everybody watches them do it, and so on. And for religious rituals that involve food, usually cooked meat as a sign of wealth, men are often given the duty as women aren't important enough.

Today, guys like to barbeque because their fathers did and taught them to do it and/or because it makes them feel like the guy in charge. And they can bond with other guys and drink beer, because it isn't at all girly as men have always roasted the meat for the special b-que meal. And women let them because standing in front of a hot grill is no fun. :)