The Demise of Chewing: Review of “Catching Fire” by Richard Wrangham

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We were once apes with big lips, mouths, teeth and guts. Then we learned how to cook our food. Now we’re apes with small lips, mouths, teeth and guts… and big brains. Coincidence? Dick thinks not.

According to him, we learned how to cook by first learning how to control fire. This allowed us to sleep on the ground at night (instead of in trees) and turned us from Homo habilus (tree-climbing, raw-food-eating dimwits) into Homo erectus (ground-dwelling, cooked-food-eating troglodytes).

Controlling fire and cooking also engendered the division of labor between the sexes and accelerated our penchant for complex cooperation. Once we learned to cook our food, men could spend their days hunting and not have to worry about lost chewing time (raw-food-eating modern apes — chimps and gorillas — have to spend most their days chewing and thus can’t hunt much– and because every ape must chew for himself, no division of labor is possible). With cooking, women didn’t have to worry about lost chewing time either and could thus spend their days gathering and cooking.

In the end, cooking gave us several more free hours per day to do other things, which led us to socialize more, think more and, with the help of easily digestable, energy-abundant cooked food, grow our brains.

This is a great book. I recommend it to all apes who eat cooked food.