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“The Cooking Enigma” Essay

690 words - 3 pages

“The Cooking Enigma,” by Richard Wrangham seeks to find the role of cooking in human evolution. The author begins by introducing a view that cooking is insignificant and has no influence on evolution. The alternate view is that cooking is important and led to several biologically defining features of humans, such as small guts, small teeth and slow life histories. Both views agree that cooking improves food nutrionally and makes it easier to eat and digest. Digestion consumes a lot of energy, especially when digesting hard food. Cooking may speed and ease digestion, although further experiments are needed. This may be vital, because minor dietary changes have far-reaching effects. To illustrate, the author offers an example comparing chimpanzees and gorillas. Both are frugivores and can supplement their diet with fibrous foods. However, gorillas can live solely on fibrous foods, while chimps cannot due to digestive and dental adaptations. This difference has impacted the ability to live in diverse environments for chimps and gorillas. It is possible that the need to rapidly develop digestive abilities leads to an overall faster maturation of gorillas. When without fruits, chimpanzee groups must break up and scatter, while gorilla groups can remain stable. Similarly, cooking have large effects, e.g. more predictable food supply, adults can feed babies soft foods, and less time is spent chewing. It can also affect food distribution, allowing for a fixed location of accumulated food. Cooking was once thought to be important to evolution, but this has changed because of evidence of controlled fire appearing earlier than previously thought. It now generally thought that humans first controlled fire in the Middle Paleolithic. Thereof, accompanying the control of fire and resultant cooking ability should be a host of evolutionary changes. However, these are not seen. As Wringham says, “the cooking enigma, therefore, is how cooking became a human universal without having visible effects on our evolutionary biology” (313). The author presents three interpretations, differing by the time cooking became important. The first, named The Late Solution,...

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