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Catching Fire

>> Thursday, September 3, 2009

Many people today are touting that uncooked foods are the way to go, but is that necessarily true? In a new book by Dr. Richard Wrangham, primatologist at Harvard, the point he argues is that it is not. He even goes on to explain how cooking actually helped us separate and speed up our separation from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens. The book came out in May, but Dr. Wrangam was recently interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation and had some pretty interesting and compelling arguments.

The books is entitled Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human and covers just not Wrangham's expertise, but uses studies in anthropology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, and ape studies to round out his hypothesis. Of course, many raw-foodists have a bit of a problem with this idea. Raw-foodists have the tendency to believe that it is natural to eat your food raw. Many of them use the argument that we only really began cooking about 400,000 years ago and that it takes millions of years to evolve to a new diet. Wrangum argues why it is possible that this could have occurred right when we speciated.

As inevitable, a raw-foodist called in and asked a question:

KATIE: I've recently been introduced to the raw food diet, and I was wondering what you think about that and if you think it's all a hoax.

RAEBURN: Go ahead, doctor(ph).

Dr. WRANGHAM: Well, thanks, Katie.

RAEBURN: Go ahead.

Dr. WRANGHAM: I mean, that's a great question. And I think that it - the funny thing about the raw food diet is that many of the proponents argue that it is the natural thing to do. And I'm quite sure that it's not the natural thing to do in the sense that we're not biologically adapted for it, because if you look at raw foodists nowadays, they lose weight on a raw food diet, even to the point where women, in the only large survey that is being done of this, turn out to stop menstruating in half the cases when they are on a 100 percent raw food diet, an indication of how little energy they have. The scientists conclude that raw food diets lead to chronic energy shortage.

So if you want to gain energy, if you're living in the Third World, like a third of the people in the world, very hungry, then you - the last thing you want is a raw diet. But in our society, a raw diet can have all sorts of advantages. It can help you control your weight, and it has other advantages, too, for some people. I mean, there's lots of benefits that people report.

Some people find that they get reductions in rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, some very specific things like that. But many people feel a greater sense of well being, more vitality - quite often, less pain. And I think partly, this is going to be due to just eating less, and partly it probably is due to the fact that some people may be allergic or have some kind of response to the chemicals that are produced in cooked food. So, it's a very personal thing. You know, for some people, raw diets can be terrific. It's just that, you know, don't think they're natural, they're not.
Now, one of the best arguments he has for this was given as an answer he gave when being interviewed by Publishers Weekly:

Biologically, we are not well-adapted to raw foods. Our teeth and stomachs are small compared to those of chimpanzees or gorillas, because we don’t eat huge quantities of tough, high-fiber raw foods. Our large intestines are relatively small because we don’t have to retain and ferment raw food for hours. Humans don’t thrive on raw food—they lose weight, and women’s fertility is severely compromised.

You can read the entire transcript here. I plan on purchasing this book and giving a bit more insights to his arguments at a later date.


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