Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Catching Fire

What made us human? What helped to differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom? Anthropologists long have theorized that man truly began to change when he started eating meat, when he became a hunter. Yet that might not be an adequate explanation. It might not have been sufficient to truly transform man. What might have assisted the matter is "cooking."

This intriguing theory is outlined in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham (Basic Books, May 2009, $26.95). Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and Curator of Primate Behavioral Biology at the Peabody Museum. So he is a local author. This hard cover book has 207 pages of text and over 40 pages of notes.

One of the chapters which most interested me was the first chapter, dealing with a comparison of raw food versus cooked food. There has been a raw food movement, extolling its virtues, though it does not appear to have caught on that much locally. This chapter though extolls the virtues of cooked food, pointing out the problems of raw food, countering some of the commonly cited advantages of raw food. I did not know that even animals grow faster when they eat cooked food.

Wrangham has written a compelling and fascinating case for his theory. Though well written, the book sometimes tends to get a little academic for a general reader, though very appropriate for the subject matter. It is thus not a book for a casual reader but if the subject matter intrigues you, then you'll find much of interest in it.

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