You may have thought cooking was just a way to get something to eat.
Actually, it's why homo sapiens developed bodies strong enough to bench-press a dump truck and brains that could create incomprehensible "financial instruments" to sell to widows and orphans and crash the world economy like a drunken NASCAR driver. Oh, and you raw-food types? If our ancestors paid any attention to you, we'd be a bunch of 98-pound weaklings with the energy of a tree sloth and the cognitive powers of a toadstool.
That, at least, is the theory of Dr. Richard Wrangham, set forth in his new book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Wrangham is no slouch; he's a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. He got his start studying chimps with Jane Goodall. In a recent interview in the online magazine Salon, he made two intriguing points.
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• Because cooked food gives our bodies more energy than raw food, increasing the amount of nutrients we can digest and requiring less effort to process, it allowed humans to develop bigger, stronger bodies and bigger, more powerful brains.
• Cooking is the single most important thing that shaped gender roles. It lies at the root of the notions of monogamy and marriage -- that food is, in fact, more important than sex.
There are a few things Wrangham didn't deal with. Like how come, if we're so big and strong, we can't even get our lardasses off the couch to change the goddamned TV channel? If we're supposedly all that smart, how do you explain Sarah Palin? And if food really is more important than sex, what sort of sick perversion is the Big Mac?
Maybe Wrangham will explain all that stuff later. But at least one thing we know for sure: Incinerating a helpless slab of animal protein on the grill isn't the sign of a shitty cook; it's another step forward in the evolution of the species.