We have (finally) finished reading Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Closer to the beginning of the semester when I learned that we were to read this book, I was quite pleased. It seemed an interesting topic and looked professionally written at first glance (which later turned out to be about 99% true, in my humble opinion). After having finished it and thinking about it, I do find it slightly long-winded, but that may also be because I am not planning on being an evolutionary anthropologist, nor am I someone that would read this book in his spare time.
But that’s all beside the point.
The big idea that I am most pleased that Wrangham builds on is the fact that we are human. We are different. We are the only ones (at least as far as today’s scientific knowledge shows) that can think and philosophize so deeply as to be writing this blog post, and reading and writing books like the one we read, and being distracted by Facebook and the constant nagging worry that Sir Knight (sorry, I needed to use someone as an example…) is going to go ballistic one day and fail me/us.
So what is it that makes us who we are? You guys have no idea how much time I spend thinking about this, it’s always in the back of my head, and after every single conversation with anyone, I always wonder about not only what they said, but how they said it, what it means deep down (to them and to me), and most importantly, why did they say it the way they did. It’s really at a point now where it’s just about sub-conscious.
So how does this tie into Food Studies and Wrangham and all that? Well, it does say “HOW COOKING MADE US HUMAN” in big, annoying capital letters right on the front cover. I guess that in every class I take now, I try to connect everything back to this “bigger picture”, and this fit in nicely.
I am particularly impressed by the massive amount of sheer evidence that Wrangham gives to support his theory that it was primarily cooking, not another factor, that allowed us to develop evolutionarily to where we are today (particularly our big brain). First it was the raw-foodists (this concept, by the way, is an example of something our crazy big noggins thought up). He proved that they weren’t getting enough energy off of simply eating only raw food. The ones that were even semi-successful processed their food in ways that early humans couldn’t have dreamed of, and the food they had was already bred to be the best of the best. Eventually came his main declaration: cooking adds energy to food (or at least makes the energy it already has more accessible). It is this, the mastery of the art of semi-digesting food via grinding, pulverizing, heating, etc. that made it possible for us to develop into the creatures that we are today. It made possible the development of advanced social structures, of language, of art, and of science. He extrapolates on this when he talks about how cooking has affected the separation of labor between the two sexes, and how the effects it had on early man are still prevalent today, albeit not necessarily in a desirable form. Judging by his theories, cooking could be the root of modern sexism.
Although it is more towards the end, I think one of the more powerful points he makes is that the mastery of fire is ultimately what enabled us to cook. This mastery of fire, a thing that is seemingly living and breathing, has shaped our cultures, our wars and struggles, and ultimately, has helped decide who we really are.
I shall continue in my quest to figure out every little nuance in the human brain, and this has been a nice little stepping stone to help me on my way. But that’s tomorrow. It’s bed time.