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September 18, 2005

Was the invention of cooking the single greatest technological advance in human history?


Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, believes that to be the case.

Julie Powell interviewed Wrangham for a story she wrote for last Wednesday's New York Times Dining section about her recent attempt to eliminate cooking from her life and eat only raw, uncooked and unprocessed foods.

She found it essentially impossible because of the enormous amount of time she spent daily gathering food and eating it.

Wrangham pointed out that "chimpanzees in the wild spend 50% to 60% of their time eating, whereas humans spend only 5%–6%."

He believes the difference lies in the invention and spread of cooking, "the set of technologies that enable humans to efficiently transform food into softer, more easily digestible and less perishable forms."

Powell instantly understood Wrangham's point after her own experience of spending the bulk of her waking life juicing, dehydrating, and consuming massive amounts of raw foodstuffs in an effort to absorb sufficient nutrients from the unprocessed materials.

She wrote in the Times, "In his 2003 paper in the Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 'Cooking as a Biological Trait,' Professor Wrangham writes that just to maintain the minimum necessary caloric intake, a raw foodist must eat 11 to 12 pounds of food every day."

Wrangham's theory is that the invention of cooking, widening the available range of digestible, nutritious foodstuffs, freed pre–humans to spend the time and brain power to do other things that led to becoming their eventually becoming human.

Powell noted with some amusement the irony of how it has come to pass that many people now believe that cooking is harmful, even poison.

As I always say to vegetarians, only because your ancestors were the fiercest of hunters and killers did they survive long and successfully enough to give rise to the offspring that eventually begat you.

Every single human being who walks this planet descends from a long line of blood–on–the–lips, take–no–prisoners carnivores.

It's good to remember your roots every now and then.

September 18, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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