Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Homo Erectus in the Kitchen

My affliction with epicureanism, no matter well how it satiates my ever-growing gut, sometimes leaves me feeling rather empty, in the metaphorical sense. It's just food! We all have to eat, I remind myself, and most people in the world don't (or can't afford to) get so precious about it. If you do treat cooking as an art, you probably have too much time and money on your hands. Shouldn't I be spending my time and money doing loftier things? Like...I don't even know, that's how shallow I am. Alright, then shouldn't I be spending my time and money doing things that need to be done, like taking my car to get new brake pads? It has needed them for at least two months. Not very economical of me to wait till the brakes potentially need to be replaced altogether.

Today's Science Times had an encouraging interview of primatologist and anthropologist Richard Wrangham, who argues -- very effectively according to this writer with no science background -- that cooking was the key to our evolution from apes to humans. I'm terrible at paraphrasing, but it's a fascinating argument, and one that certainly goes against the raw food movement: our height and brain size are the products of a healthy diet made possible only when foods are cooked. Makes pretty good sense to me, but perhaps I am just biased.

But, to return to my original predicament, can I start to think of cooking as "lofty" because the apes don't do it, because it just may be the thing that makes me a human!?! Indeed, pursuits such as music and art are considered lofty. True, sometimes monkeys make art, like if the zookeeper gives them an open can of paint or something, but the humanly desire to "Create!" does not seem to be there. On the other hand, another thing that separates us from our fellow primates is that we can stand up straight and this, to me, despite whatever literal interpretations you want to make, is not lofty, nor does it make feel particularly special.

Certainly, something that cooking gave us a lot more of, in addition to perhaps size, brains, and longevity, is free time. (Dr. Wrangham's chimpanzees "spend most of their day foraging and chewing extremely fibrous foods," some of which they'll "masticate for a full hour.") For me, cooking -- or spending more time cooking than one has to in order to survive -- is probably nothing more than an enjoyable way to use up some time and give the ol' palate a kick. If nothing else, it definitely beats gnawing on the same fibrous plant till my teeth hurt.


rachelwebre said...

The food industry is a very necessary, multi-trillion dollar industry. If it weren't for cooking and making things delicious, we'd be stuck eating manna and raw leafy things. Everyone's life is better because of cooking. Perhaps most people would sacrifice a fancy, flavorful meal if it meant that there would be world peace. But who are we kidding? That ain't gonna happen. You keep cooking, Economical Epicurean.

Daniel said...

You raise some thought-provoking questions. Of course, we could all sit around debating the loftiest issues of philosophy all day long--but then what would we do when we got hungry?

We might as well eat well.

Casual Kitchen

DEO said...

Rachel and Dan: Thanks to both of you! I guess my original quandary was, should I (or we, or anyone who does the same thing) be spending so much time thinking about food? But there are certainly worse things we could be doing. ;)