Catching Fire - Richard Wrangham

WHAT makes us human and sets us apart from other animals? According to scientist Richard Wrangham – it s cooking. We are the only species to cook food. And Mr Wrangham, a primatologist who studies primates like monkeys, apes and lemurs, says that is what

WHAT makes us human and sets us apart from other animals?

According to scientist Richard Wrangham - it's cooking. We are the only species to cook food.

And Mr Wrangham, a primatologist who studies primates like monkeys, apes and lemurs, says that is what has made us the animals we are today.

In the highly readable Catching Fire (�15, Profile), he suggests we are the shape we are, and have the brains we do, because we cook.


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Once we had learned how to make fire, the theory goes, we discovered food tasted better heated. Cooked vegetables were easier to digest, cooked meat was made softer and easier to chew, and the body could absorb more energy-giving calories.

Time spent chewing tough, raw food could now be used to hunt. Our jaws and teeth became smaller, as did our guts, compared to apes. And as the human digestive tract began to shrink, the brain began to grow.

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We needed smaller meals because the cooking process made the food more efficient for our needs.

Mr Wrangham points to experiments in which people stuck to a uncooked diet - mostly fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. They soon lost weight and became lethargic.

He also says given the choice of cooked and raw food, most animals will choose cooked. The problem is that, because their bodies are designed for raw food, they will gain weight.

Mr Wrangham suggests cooking became the basis for humans pairing up - one needed to be at camp cooking during the day, so the other could go hunting and then have a warm meal ready when he got home. In return, he would share the food he had gathered.

Fascinating stuff.

-LINDSAY JONES

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