Thursday, June 4, 2009

Unified Chimpanzee Tea Party Theory: Chimps + Cooking = Bloggers

I just saw this on Bittman's blog, and it reminded me that, though the story of this book has been making the rounds in the blogosphere in recent weeks, I still hadn't gotten around to commenting on it. The book in question is called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human and there's a chapter excerpt here and the book review with a summary of the theory here.
Put simply, Mr. Wrangham writes that eating cooked food — whether meat or plants or both —made digestion easier, and thus our guts could grow smaller. The energy that we formerly spent on digestion (and digestion requires far more energy than you might imagine) was freed up, enabling our brains, which also consume enormous amounts of energy, to grow larger. The warmth provided by fire enabled us to shed our body hair, so we could run farther and hunt more without overheating. Because we stopped eating on the spot as we foraged and instead gathered around a fire, we had to learn to socialize, and our temperaments grew calmer.
I was intrigued by Wrangham's theory back when I first read his short essay in Tree of Origin... so I'm pretty interested to read the book length version. It's certainly an attractive hypothesis that seems to answer a lot of questions about the origin of our species in a nice little package.

As someone who is fascinated by both primates and cooking, it was pretty clear I have to read this book. The alleged brutal take down of the Raw Food movement is just a bonus. So expect a review in the coming weeks.