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Did Cooking Make Us Human?

December 18, 2009
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I reviewed Richard Wrangham’s book on food and evolution, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human (Profile, 2009) for The Times Higher Education Supplement.

It’s not often that you find fashionable chefs such as Moro’s Samuel Clark or Nigella Lawson endorsing the latest book on human evolution, but then this is an unusual and compelling read. Richard Wrangham, a British primatologist and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, tells us that without the ability to cook we’d still be grubbing about for berries in the forest with super-sized jaws, spiky teeth, hopeless reproduction and survival rates, and frankly inferior brains: there would certainly be no internet, organ transplants or budget city breaks.

The author’s “big idea” is that eating cooked food, with its high caloric density, enabled us to develop from the small, ape-like but upright habilines of 2 million years ago into modern humans. Read more..

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