Response to Wrangham (3/30)

Over the past month we have been reading a book written by Richard Wrangham about how the introduction of cooking our food made us into the humans we know recognize today. I personally do not agree with the theory of evolution and the theory does not really make sense to me, so with a lot of his points I had difficulty understanding how they were physically possible.

However, trying to look aside from the evolution aspect of the book, I realize that the change of cooked food from raw food, had to have had a major impact on the human race, but to say that it caused our species to change seems a bit extreme to me. I can see these impacts that cooking had to be population stability. Wrangham talks a lot about hunter-gatherer societies, and how, within the societies there is not always enough meat for everyone, so the gatherers of the society would have to provide enough for their families to survive. It seems that the introduction of cooking food would prevent there from being shortages of meat, which would ultimately mean less hunger throughout the tribe. This would mean less deaths, not only because of hunger but also because of punishment from stealing food within the tribe.

Wrangham has convinced me that cooking our food has drastically separated our species from the rest of the primate species. However, there was one point that he continually made that did not make sense to me. Whenever Wrangham made a reference to apes, I felt like he did not say enough about how they related to the human species to make his argument valid. He always makes examples about how other primates preferred cooked food over raw food, for example, Koko, though somewhat controversially, communicated that she preferred cooked food over raw food. I did not understand how preference of cooked food made us human. I mean, we did not evolve because we liked cooked foods, we evolved because the cooked foods helped to physically alter our species. Even if we, as homo erectus, did not prefer the taste of cooked food, but we got more energy, calories and nutrients from it, we would still eat the food, as I am sure the raw meat that they had to eat was not the best tasting stuff either. Whether Wrangham meant to say that primates preferred cooked meat because somehow subconsciously the primates knew that the cooked meat would benefit them in the long run, I do not know, but I do not believe that our opinions on the taste of cooked food would have changed the supposed evolution of humans after cooking was introduced.

Also, Wrangham spoke about how primates, rats and pythons gained weight when they were fed cooked food. These were in separate studies but all showed the same thing. What I did not understand about this was that how, if these animals were being fed cooked food for so long, how they were not evolving, or even slightly changing. Can it only be “humans” that evolve? The way that Wrangham could not say that cooked food changed the animals in the long run, did not help his argument, in my opinion.

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2 Responses to Response to Wrangham (3/30)

  1. William Popov says:

    You make some very valid points Bethany. However, I must comment on one thing: the animals that you mentioned that were fed cooked food (primates, rats, pythons) were fed cooked food to one animal, not a successive series of generations of the animals. Evolution, as we now know it, usually works over very, very long periods of time (hundreds of thousands if not millions of years). If one were to conduct a science experiment that long, there may be some changes.
    I think the point that Wrangham was trying to make with the animal studies was that eating cooked food drastically increased the energy content of the food, not that it was making/helping them evolve.

    Overall, you make a good argument.
    William

  2. Mr. Sturdy Knight says:

    I think that William more or less addresses your confusion about the question of evolution, Bethany, so I will leave that alone.
    I think you are on to something here with your idea that the primary contribution of cooking to human development has been social rather than physiological. After all, any distant human ancestor capable of taming fire in the first place must have had reasonably advanced problem solving and abstract thinking skills; it is not a stretch to imagine that they would have thought much like we do today. Cooked food does introduce stability though, allowing a tribe to better weather lean seasons, and setting up social models of exchange and distribution that help to ensure everyone gets a share. This refinement of Wrangham’s hypothesis has merit, and I think you should pursue it.

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