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Did we cook our way into consciousness?

There is one question which has puzzled anthropologists, evolutionists and literally every other “ologist” associated or interested in understanding the origins of humans and how we evolved from primitive apes munching on leaves and berries into the “sophisticated” beings that we are today. Well, for that matter, some prominent individuals in this science have pointed out that the “munching” may have actually played a huge role in the bountiful increase in the rate of evolution.

Let us go back in time to trace the advent of this immense evolutionary explosion which may have caused a leap from our primitive ways of life to more refined and intelligent outlooks towards the world around us. It could all have started the day when man learnt about one of the quintessential elements of nature, Fire. Whether it originated from two pebbles of flint rubbing against each other or through lightning striking dry trees, the first instance of fire must have almost definitively led to early men freaking out. Eventually, man must have learnt to control fire as well as understand the various ways in which fire could be used for our benefit. Thus, an evolutionary roller-coaster towards modern consciousness was ignited through the embers of novelty.

Our most primitive ancestors, who were essential more closely related to apes than us, had diets consisting mostly of plant materials as well as raw meat. The amount of energy and time required for the digestion of these raw bounties of nature must have been quite a lot.

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Tripped Out Fact: Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, studied the eating habits as well as the calorie requirements of early hominids. He compared the chewing rate of early men and their daily calorie requirements and found that in order to obtain satiety based on the raw diet they followed, early humans must have needed to chew their food for up to 5.7 to 6.2 hours in a day. Now, that’s a lot of time to be spent on chewing if you ask me.

The birth of consciousness and our ascension from normal animalistic standards of living must have definitively started once man learnt how to use the forces of nature to his advantage. One fine day, when one of our Homo Erectus ancestors picked up a charred tuber from a tree burnt down from lightning (just a hypothetical situation so bear with me before you point your analytical fingers) we achieved consciousness in the form of a blissful roller coaster of taste, texture and energy.

Tripped Out Fact: Around the time that the power of cooking has been speculated to have discovered (1.6 to 1.9 million years ago) a transition from Homo Habilus to Homo Erectus was observed. This was one of the largest and most apparent transitions in all of human evolution, with considerable reduction in tooth size. Another important transition in this phase was a 50 percent increase in the brain size of our ancestors. Interesting, huh?

With the advent of fire and cooking came a considerable reduction in the time required for digestion of food. With a considerable diminishing in the time required for digestion food, due to it being more processed than raw food, came the reduction in the need to have large guts as well as the need to spend the better time of the day chewing and munching. This gave early men much more time to indulge and explore other socially constructive activities, which may in turn have led to the birth of culture and society as we know it, as advocated by quite a few anthropologists and sociologists.

Tripped Out Fact: The brain takes up the most energy out of all organs in our body, i. e it takes up about 20 percent of the total energy while taking up only 2 percent of the body weight. By taking up more calories through cooking raw food, early men were able to use the extra energy to increase brain function and hence, become smarter than their primitive counterparts.

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The connection between cooking and consciousness goes much deeper than we think. Cooking allowed us to harness more out of our foods, owing to the fact that the heat made it easier for us to digest those proteins and essential nutrients which were not available to us through raw foods. Moreover, cooking also exemplified the taste and the texture of foods, making eating a delectable and tangible experience in itself, which is much better than chewing on plant stalks all day long.

The best part about cooking is the fact that it helped us come together and develop communal ways of living, starting from eating together and moving onto various customs and traditions associated with the same. All said and done, cooking helped us define ourselves in a more “human” way than ever before.

You are the product of millions of years of perfecting the art of cooking and eating. So the next time someone complains about you spending more time than needed on a meal, tell them about how it is much better than having to spend the whole day chewing on plants and grub.

Further Tripping…

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About Ashwin Ramesh

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