A very cool book. Provocative, and certainly worthy of the scant and mumbly paragraphs I’ll devote to it here. I say, read and ponder it for a while; that being “Catching Fire; How cooking made us human”.
The main point of the whole book, a spoiler perhaps if you do actually read it; is that we humans are much, much different from any other life form on this planet. I originally thought this book was going to be some sort of artsy-fartsy thing – a romantic treatise on the joys of cooking, but I was, happily, wrong. It’s more scientific. I believe the author might be an anthropologist or something. I’m not certain, and that’s really not important.
What’s most interesting is that we’ve evolved to eat cooked and processed food. Our intestines are so desperately short compared to our primate cousins, and every other mammal (except, oddly, coyotes! figure that out…), that we cannot process anything else effectively, or sustain ourselves… Processing food; cooking it, curing it, grinding it, making it into sausage, or some mush, is sort of like turbo-charging the digestive process. Proteins are broken down into smaller sizes; carbohydrates into simpler sugars, such that our bodies don’t have to expend as much energy doing all that work. Instead of needing to spend all day, and a lot of energy eating we can get by on a relatively small amount. As a consequence, our guts shrunk, and our brains grew.
Our mandibles have shrunk. Pound for pound, we’ve by far, the tiniest mouths and jaws of anything existing on the planet. An 80 pound chimpanzee has a mouth and lips and cheeks capable of holding a magnitude more than a 200 pound man.
Studies have shown, in fact that people living by a ‘raw-food’ diet, cannot eat enough food to sustain their weight. As if calories don’t exist, people can and have consumed 4, 5, 6, even 7 thousand calories and still lost weight… Eating all day, in massive quantities, raw foods will starve you eventually, because they simply cannot be digested enough. The energy they take, is more than they give. We don’t have the apparatus to live that way.
Calories, and counting them, is a misnomer. We base our caloric intake on a method developed by Wilbur Atwater (the Atwater method), over a century ago. His is based on caloric potential of any given item – by burning it, essentially, to see how much heat it gives off.
The only problem is, our bodies simply don’t work this way. Take fat, for example. People fear it and strip skin from already bland chicken breasts, thinking that they’re serving themselves well in doing so. In fact fat doesn’t turn into fat in the body. It’s broken down into components, fatty acids, forms of glucose (! the fuel of the brain!). At no point in our digestive process is anything burnt or combusted as it was by Atwater. It’s either broken down into smaller elements via enzyme or fermentation or bacterial process, then stored, or used immediately, or ejected… Calories, as you know them, meticulously count them on your latest app, are meaningless.
Interesting. Ironic. Sad. Strapping chicken feathers on your forehead is as useful as counting calories, really, after all is said and done, and yet it’s become the backbone of all modern society, nuclear bombs and all…