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People around the world celebrate many different holidays for many different reasons. But no
matter how we celebrate, most of us have one thing in common, and that's sitting down to
a big holiday meal together.
We're not the only social animals that sit down to eat together, but we are the only
ones who cook. Cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strass, cooking establishes the difference
between animals and people, although I think he'd agree that pants make a big difference
too. I think he was probably talking about the cultural attachments to cooking, the ceremonies,
or the tools, but he was right in a completely different way.
Cooking literally allowed us to become human, in the most basic biological and evolutionary
sense of the word. This theory is championed by people like Harvard's Richard Wrangham.
He says, above all else, cooking allowed us to transition from primitive ape to complex
human. it allowed us to feed our growing brains, and it opened up a lot of free time.
The success of human culture and evolution is because of our remarkably advanced brain,
it's 100 billion neurons full of language and creativity and curiosity, but that brain
comes at a cost. It uses 1/5th of the calories that we eat. I guess with great power, comes
great hunger.
We've got enormous brains in relation to our body size, and that's one of the key differences
between us and our primate cousins. Take gorillas for instance: they're three times as massive
as humans, but their brains only have one-third the number of neurons. Scientists actually
estimate that for a gorilla to have a brain the size of ours, they'd have to add 700 calories
to their daily diet. The thing is gorillas already spend 80% of their daylight hours
eating. Their diet is mostly leaves and fruits, and all raw. Chimpanzees, too, spend more
than half of their day eating, compared with us, that's just 5%, but most of that's probably waiting
in line.
Gorillas and chimps share more in common with human ancestors like Australopithecus than
they do with us. Compared to humans, gorilla skulls have enormous jaws, and huge teeth
and powerful ridges to attach chewing muscles, which are all adaptations to a diet that consists
mainly of dense, fibrous plant matter.
We see a lot of those same traits in Australopithecus, but then something happened around 1.8 million
years ago, brains and body sizes doubled, in the form of Homo erectus, the first modern
human.
While Australopithecus looks distinctly ape-like, if you saw Homo erectus walking down the street,
you'd pretty much recognize it as human, except for the lack of pants again. But inside of
Homo erectus' basically human skull is a basically human brain, which means that it had figured
out a way to get a lot more energy out of its food.
Part of that is thanks to hunting and eating large animals, but also to tools that allowed
it to cut meat from large animal carcasses and break bones to get at their calorie-rich
marrow. While Homo erectus probably ate meat when they could get it, we think they still
ate mostly plants, and it's cooking that made the difference.
When plants are cooked, it breaks down their tough cell walls, which lets them release
more of their nutrients, and it makes them easier to chew. Not only that, heat denatures
or unwinds proteins, which allows our bodies to digest them easier and it inactivates plant
toxins. This means that our ancestors could have gotten access to more foods, and more
energy than ever before. This works with animal and meat products too, you can see it every
time you cook an egg, as you go from clear to white.
There's a catch, though. Scientists haven't found definitive proofthat Homo erectus harnessed
fire 1.8 million years ago, but that could be because things like burnt sticks don't
fossilize well, and well, fossils from that era are pretty rare to begin with.
Cooking can mean a lot more than just putting your food over fire, though. Maybe it means
crushing it up into a more edible form, or it could mean preserving it and breaking down
with salt, maybe it means cutting it into pieces and drying it up in the sun, or mashing
it up into an edible form like this, and maybe you let nature do the work for you.
Because our ancestors were spending less time eating, that gave them a bunch of free time
to do things like develop language, or invent art, and tools. Chimps mostly eat food where
they find it, and they'll gladly take food from another chimp. "I drink your milkshake"
But when our ancestors started cooking food, that means they'd bring it back to a central
location, and that means they'd have to strengthen social bonds and cooperation. Maybe cooking
helped us evolve to just get along.
They would have had to invent new tools to carry their food around in, our children would
have lived longer, and so would our adults. We ate our way to becoming a stronger species.
When you sit down to your next holiday meal and your weird Uncle Larry starts talking
about politics again, well, just remember that cooking, together, is a big part of what
makes you human, and hey, at least you'll have something else to talk about. Stay curious.
If you'd like to know more about the evolution of human cooking, check out Richard Wrangham's
"Catching Fire - How Cooking Made Us Human" I've got a link down in the description. And
of course, if you'd like to continue to feed your brain, well, subscribe.
Special thanks to the Thinkery, Austin's new children's museum, where science and families
play side by side. See ya later.
コツ:単語をクリックしてすぐ意味を調べられます!

読み込み中…

Why Do We Cook?

16429 タグ追加 保存
陳震寰 2016 年 4 月 16 日 に公開
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