Navigation Links
Harvard scientist says we are what we eat -- and what we cook
Date:6/1/2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 1, 2009 -- "You are what you eat." Can these pithy words explain the evolution of the human species?

Yes, says Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who argues in a new book that the invention of cooking -- even more than agriculture, the eating of meat, or the advent of tools -- is what led to the rise of humanity.

Wrangham's book, "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human," is published today (June 1) by Basic Books. In it, he makes the case that the ability to harness fire and cook food allowed the brain to grow and the digestive tract to shrink, giving rise to our ancestor Homo erectus some 1.8 million years ago.

"Cooking is the signature feature of the human diet, and indeed, of human life -- but we have no idea why," says Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "It's the development that underpins many other changes that have made humans so distinct from other species."

Drawing on a wide body of research, Wrangham makes the case that cooking makes eating faster and easier, and wrings more caloric benefit from food. Moreover, he writes, cooking is vitally important to supporting the outsize human brain, which consumes a quarter of the body's energy.

By freeing humans from having to spend half the day chewing tough raw food -- as most of our primate relatives do -- cooking allowed early humans to devote themselves to more productive activities, ultimately allowing the development of tools, agriculture, and social networks. Cooked food is also softer, meaning the body uses less energy merely digesting what it takes in.

Since physical remnants of fire tend to degrade rapidly, archaeological evidence of fire and cooking dates back only about 800,000 years. Wrangham looked to biological evidence, which shows that around 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus arose with larger brains and bodies and smaller guts, jaws, and teeth -- changes consistent with the switch to a more tender and energetically rich diet of cooked food.

"Cooking is what makes the human diet 'human,' and the most logical explanation for the advances in brain and body size over our ape ancestors," Wrangham says. "It's hard to imagine the leap to Homo erectus without cooking's nutritional benefits."

While others have posited that meat-eating enabled the rise of Homo erectus some 1.8 million years ago, Wrangham says those theories don't mesh with that species' smaller jaws and teeth. Instead, he claims meat enabled the shift from Australopithecines to Homo habilis -- a species about the size of a chimp, but with a bigger brain -- more than half a million years earlier.

Wrangham says the adoption of cooking had profound impacts on human families and relationships, making hearth and home central to humanity and driving humans into paired mating and perhaps even traditional male-female household roles.

He writes that the advent of cooking permitted a new distribution of labor between men and women: Men entered into relationships to have someone to cook for them, freeing them up for socializing and other pursuits and bolstering their social standing. Women benefited from men's protection, safeguarding their food from thieves. Homo sapiens remains the only species in which theft of food is uncommon even when it would be easy.

"To this day, cooking continues in every known human society," Wrangham says. "We are biologically adapted to cook food. It's part of who we are and affects us in every way you can imagine: biologically, anatomically, socially."


'/>"/>

Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Organizational Change Management for Sustainability: The Harvard Case Study
2. Eli and Edythe L. Broad make unprecedented gift to endow Broad Institute of Harvard & MIT
3. Wearable Sensors Conceived at Harvard Robotics Lab Measure Hand Forces
4. New discoveries from Harvard and Baylor get to the heart of cardiovascular disease
5. Jeremy Jackson honored by Harvard Museum of Natural History
6. Harvard researchers publish MRI images of genes in action in the living brain
7. BASF and Harvard University announce extensive research collaboration
8. Singapore scientists elected into National Academy of Sciences
9. Scientists explain how death receptors designed to kill our cells may make them stronger
10. Caltech scientists reveal how neuronal activity is timed in brains memory-making circuits
11. Scientists develop a new HIV microbicide -- and a way to mass produce it in plants
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:3/10/2016)... , March 10, 2016   Unisys Corporation (NYSE: ... Border Protection (CBP) is testing its biometric identity solution ... Diego to help identify certain non-U.S. citizens leaving ... The test, designed to help determine the efficiency and accuracy ... in February and will run until May 2016. --> ...
(Date:3/8/2016)...   Valencell , the leading innovator in ... secured $11M in Series D financing. The investment ... fund being launched by UAE-based financial services company ... TDF Ventures and WSJ Joshua Fund. Valencell plans ... growth and accelerate its pioneering innovation in accurate ...
(Date:3/2/2016)... , March 2, 2016 ... announced the addition of the  "Global Biometrics ... their offering.  ,     (Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130307/600769) , , ... to grow at a CAGR of around ... ) has announced the addition of ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:5/5/2016)... ... 05, 2016 , ... ProMIS Neurosciences (“ProMIS” or the “Company”) ... it has identified a fourth in a series of novel potential therapeutic targets ... of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). , “This discovery is an important milestone ...
(Date:5/4/2016)... ... ... Proove Biosciences, Inc. , the commercial and research leader in personalized pain ... partnership is designed to advance research in pain genetics in an effort to bring ... new agreement, researchers at Proove Biosciences are able to collaborate with Luda Diatechnko, MD, ...
(Date:5/4/2016)... ALBANY, New York , May 4, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... published by Transparency Market Research "Metabolomics Market - Global ... - 2024", the metabolomics market is anticipated to expand ... to reach USD 2,494.8 million by 2024. ... known as metabolites, within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms. ...
(Date:5/3/2016)... May 3, 2016 ... Drug Discovery, Gene Expression) Lab-on-a-chip (IVD & ... Institutes, Diagnostics Centers), Fabrication Technology (Microarrays, Microfluidics) ... the market is expected to reach USD ... Billion in 2015, growing at a CAGR ...
Breaking Biology Technology: