DEFINING MAN: THE SPECIES THAT COOKS. I have posted several times (here, here, and here) on the theory that cooking was a crucial breakthrough in the evolution of man. The October 22 New York Review of Books has a review by Steven Mithen of CATCHING FIRE; HOW COOKING MADE US HUMAN by Richard Wrangham, which explores the theory. The review notes several other (that is, that I haven’t posted on) ways that cooking enabled man to evolve in distinctive ways. Less chewing permitted a smaller jaw and smaller teeth, which in turn allowed a greater range for vocalizations—important for speech. Cooked food “can be digested with a smaller gut, releasing metabolic energy for a larger brain.” Humans use about 20 to 25% of their calories running their brains. Other vertebrates use as little as 2%. We have smaller colons and narrower pelvises—the human colon is only 60% of the colon of a primate of the same size. Support for the theory comes from the known lifestyle of early man: “Hunting and scavenging on African savannahs demanded energy, and required walking and running over long distances often with low rates of success….Without cooked food,….the energy and time required for such activity would simply not have been available.”

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