OT: Humans: The Cooking Ape

An interesting take on human evolution, how cooking altered human evolution. Wrangham mentions Glycemic Index but not Glycemic Load which tells me he is not up to date on the subject of digestion and he also ignores the harm caused by insulin resistance since he is only interested in the availability and net gain of calories (calories extracted from food less calories expended by digestion). With those caveats, a very interesting lecture.

Humans: The Cooking Ape, a lecture by Richard Wrangham


The Captain


I recommend the very interesting book, “Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human,” by British primatologist Richard Wrangham. It argues the hypothesis that cooking food was an essential element in the physiological evolution of human beings. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Samuel Johnson Prize.


I really enjoyed this book. If you liked the lecture, read the book.

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Wendy, thanks. I just got the Kindle sample from Amazon. I might buy the book.

The premise makes perfect sense, humans are superb tool makers, cooking is just one more tool. Just now we are working on perfecting the intelligence tool (AI). What will humans be like a few millennia after AI?

Even before discovering Richard Wrangham I though about food preparation as “pre digesting” the food. How we process food changes the Glycemic Load if not the Glycemic Index which affects the production of insulin. I was amazed to discover how different the Glycemic Load of pasta and bread are despite the fact that both are mostly wheat flour. Overcooked pasta has a higher Glycemic Load than pasta el dente. Same pasta, different only in cooking time.

The Captain

Same pasta, different only in cooking time.

My favorite is potatoes (albeit more research as to details is needed). Just cooked potatoes (of whatever sort you want) are high glycemic load. Chill them for an hour or so and their glycemic load drops while their caloric count and glycemic load stay basically the same.

see for instance

I have always loved potato leek soup in various forms, and now I make it in advance, chill it, and eat it cold (vichysoisse!) or hot (potage parmentier!) depending on the weather. Even evil potato fries can be cooked, chilled, and then flash reheated and are then much better for you.

david fb


My favorite is potatoes (albeit more research as to details is needed). Just cooked potatoes (of whatever sort you want) are high glycemic load. Chill them for an hour or so and their glycemic load drops while their caloric count and glycemic load stay basically the same.

It’s a good day when I learn something new! Thanks!

The Captain
this week (last week, today is Sunday) bought some gorgeous small white potatoes and I have been thinking what to make with them. ¡Potato salad with vinaigrette dressing!

¿Kiwi & Potato Salad?

and their glycemic load drops while their caloric count and glycemic load stay basically the same.

david fb needs a copy editor!

I recommend the very interesting book, “Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human,” by British primatologist Richard Wrangham.

There’s a lecture by Wrangham about the book on youtube https://youtu.be/69ckWLrvVhg.

Here is a wildly exaggerated synopsis of his talk. Despite my snark, the video was entertaining and Wrangham is actually very polite and modest. In the spirit of the “what they say and what they mean” memes, here goes,

Here’s a long boring promotional video for the Leakey foundation they made me show because they give me money. I’m old so I can’t work the technology.

Cooking made us human. Everyone used to think cooking didn’t have any impact on evolution but recent evidence, my evidence, I am a Harvard professor after all, shows I’m right.

When I was young working with, name-drop, Jane Goodall, I studied what chimpanzees eat and since I’m cool I ate everything chimpanzees ate except some, laugh line, gross bodily secretions. I was hungry, so I ate dinner at camp.

Humble brag it took me 20 years to realize eating cooked food gives more energy and I wrote the first paper about it. Everyone said I was wrong because government calorie measurements show raw and cooked foods have the same calories.

They’re all wrong and I’ll tell you why. Here’s some social media pictures of a fat woman who lost weight on a raw food diet. Let me tell you some funny anecdotes about how animals who eat human food are gaining weight, dogs, cats, urban rats, and, oh you’ll like this, hedgehogs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, name-drop and buff picture, said eat raw eggs but he’s wrong and scientists analyzing poop and colostomy bags (gross!) tell us why. See, I’m right.

Humans are evolutionarily adapted to cooked food. Women on raw food diets tend to stop menstruating, so no babies. Homo erectus had small guts and teeth so they must have eaten cooked food. Apes have big guts and big teeth. My critics say there’s no evidence of fire as far back as Homo erectus. They’re wrong. I told them to go back and look at their evidence again and I’m sure they’ll get it right soon.

Everyone is wrong that cooking doesn’t affect calories. The government measures calories wrong. I’m right, fix it, and I’ll have solved the obesity problem.

Hunter gatherers have babies at twice the rate of apes because we wean them on “solid” food that is cooked and blended. To survive on raw foods, apes spend half their day chewing. We chew an hour a day. Chewing is boring. We have free time to hunt and gather, make tools, ooh, now I’m risqué and here’s a little non-pc mention of gender roles in cooking but I won’t go too far because I am, after all, a Harvard professor.

Not everyone’s convinced yet, give me more money and I’ll get them to agree.

I conclude by saying I’m right, name-drop Virginia Woolf, I’m right, here’s a funny evolution parody picture of Michelangelo’s famous biblical fresco, I’m right.

Some of the questions in the Q&A:

Q: You’re wrong for this reason phrased as a question
A: No, your reason is wrong, I’m right.

Q: How did this thing happen?
A: No one knows and there’s no evidence but I’ll talk for a while because I am, after all, a Harvard Professor, and, by the way, I’m right.

In the end, I think he’s right too.


david fb needs a copy editor!

Actully I am in desperate need of cataract surgery, and the earliest I can get it is end of September. One eye was scheduled a year pre-pandemic but doctor got ill. Next doctor got covid. Now both eyes are wonky to the point that I no longer drive at night or in any place with complex traffic or any place I do not know extremely well.

Copy Editor is still resident in my brain but is both furious with the blindness and chagrin.

david fb

(Getting old is sooooo interesting if you can get past the humiliations and pains.)


spinning –
thanks for the useful and funny video summary.

d fb

Wendy, thanks. I just got the Kindle sample from Amazon. I might buy the book.

I did buy the book and have read the first four chapters. At first it seemed a rehash of the lecture but later it started providing clues about how the author came to his conclusions. What I find most interesting is that it provides a counterpoint to the books on modern diet and disease. To sum up several hundred millennia, cooking is good for us, excessive industrial processing is bad for our health. Put another way, cooking improves our ability to extract calories from the food with no major ill effects that evolution has not been able to deal with. Evolution has yet to overcome the ill effects of industrial processing.

One story the author tells explains why evolution by natural selection can and does happen much faster than random mutations of genes can explain. It’s about finches in the Galapagos that grew large beaks during a drought. The small beaked finches that could not break open hard seeds died out, over three quarters of the population. The large beaked finches has large beaked chicks! Two or three generations is time enough to cause that mutation to become prevalent in the species.

A long delay between the adoption of a major new diet and resulting changes in anatomy is also unlikely. Studies of Galapagos finches by Peter and Rosemary Grant showed that during a year when finches experienced an intense food shortage caused by an extended drought, the birds that were best able to eat large and hard seeds—those birds with the largest beaks—survived best. The selection pressure against small-beaked birds was so intense that only 15 percent of birds survived and the species as a whole developed measurably larger beaks within a year. Correlations in beak size between parents and offspring showed that the changes were inherited. Beak size fell again after the food supply returned to normal, but it took about fifteen years for the genetic changes the drought had imposed to reverse. The Grants’ finches show that anatomy can evolve very quickly in response to dietary changes. *

Wrangham, Richard. Catching Fire (pp. 92-93). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Nature can be quite drastic while doing “evolutionary cleansing.”

The Captain

  • You can’t do this kind of search, find, copy, & paste with paper books! How does this accelerate human evolution?
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One hole in Wrangham’s cooking made us human theory is we started making big evolutionary changes, stood upright, and manufactured sophisticated tools, long before there’s evidence of fire.

I just ran across this article from 2016 about two evolutionary anthropologists who say there’s no need for cooking, just use your fork hammer and knife.

They hooked electrodes to people’s faces, fed them whole and sliced raw goat meat (modern cow is too soft for cavemen), and whole and pounded raw yams and beets. The face-electrodes counted how many times they chewed. In my day, they would have hired an undergrad to sit on a folding chair and count, who would then write an honors thesis on the research, but face-electrodes it was, and the undergrad probably applied the face-electrodes and still wrote an honors thesis.

Slicing and pounding raw food saves 2.5 million fewer chews per year.

Zink and Lieberman, who publish their findings today in Nature , believe that that reduction was more than enough to allow early members of our genus to evolve smaller teeth and jaws. Once early humans didn’t have to spend so much of their lives chewing, big teeth and long jaws stopped providing an advantage—and natural selection could start favoring other traits instead. For example, a smaller snout freed up space for maneuverable lips, a key component in forming words, and also makes the head easier to balance while running, an important skill for hunting. “Simple food processing technologies had a really enormous benefit for the hominins 2-and-a-half million years ago who invented them,” Lieberman says.

The article then contrasts this with Wrangham’s cooking made us human hypothesis.

Lieberman and Zink say they don’t discount cooking, but instead propose a two-step process: Pounding and slicing provided an initial evolutionary boost to smaller teeth, jaws, and guts; and cooking finished the job later.

Interestingly, Lieberman, Zink, and Wrangham are all in the same department at Harvard. I bet faculty meetings are a hoot.

Link to Science Magazine news article

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Did Steak Tartare fuel the Mongol/Tatar invasions of Europe?

There are two schools of thought on Tartares’ origin. The most colorful tale tells of Tartars, Turkish nomads who merged with the armies of the Mongol leader Ghengis Khan in the early 13th century (via Britannica). Purportedly, the Mongol riders placed slabs of horse meat under their saddles and ate the pulverized meat raw after a long day of soldiering…

It’s been years since I had Steak Tartare

The Captain


Perhaps the biggest change for humans our voice boxes began to travel down some time around six months of life deeper into our throats. We began to reflect on our surroundings with each other. We went further with all of our tools.