Food

Harvard Professor Finds That Barbecue Is to Thank for Human Evolution

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Bloomberg today has a fun interview with Richard Wrangham, a Harvard primatologist whose new book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, posits that it was learning to cook, not tools or agriculture, that sped up human evolution. Cooking, Wrangham explains, made food softer, which in turn allowed humans to spend less time gnawing raw chunks of meat and more time doing other things, like using tools and exploring. It also let us get more energy out of our food, which led to greater survival and faster reproduction. According to Wrangham, habilines, the first “cooking primates,” were the missing link between apes and homo erectus; evolution selected for individuals with smaller guts, which allowed more energy to be diverted to a bigger brain. And, as anyone who’s ever had a Pavlovian response to the smell of grilled meat could attest, Wrangham says that, to some extent, cooking is as biological as it is cultural: “We are not born cooks, but we are born eaters of cooked food.”

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