Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cooking 101:

Cooking is generally viewed as a result of our ancestors' experimentation with fire: after harnessing fire, they developed cooking; stated thusly, this assumes a rather unlikely [and illogical] "creativity": prior to [and even after] cooking was developed, food in any amount was a crucial, necessary resource; to suppose that human ancestors would risk this resource for an unknown reward is evolutionarily improbable, and even nonsensical. So, an alternative theory [probably already suggested]:

Our ancestors evolved in woodlands, but eventually moved into grassier areas; this theory is equally valid in either geography, but more probable in the latter. Consequently, our ancestors encounters fires. Now, it can be assumed that our ancestors encountered fire prior to developing it; this uncontrolled fire was directly and indirectly deadly to the individual. Therefore, the "protective" argument for our ancestors harnessing fire seems questionable: if fire was detrimental to an individual's survival, it seems unlikely that an individual would try to create a known risk.

Which brings us back to the grasslands, where our ancestors encountered brush fires. These fires certainly consumed many animals, and our ancestors probably encountered these "cooked" remains. Food's uncertain availability was certainly compounded by a fire, so our ancestors were probably more desperate for a meal: this probably led our ancestors to sample the "cooked" remains of other animals; in doing so, our ancestors would have made two crucial discoveries: that "cooked" food was better food [read as, more efficient food], and that fire "cooked" food; the latter epiphany would have established a method to cook--fire; by understanding fire as a cooking method, our ancestors would have had cause to develop fire, i.e., fire was no longer only a risk--it had a benefit. While our ancestors probably didn't yet possess the understanding to develop fire, establishing fire's benefit would have changed our ancestors' opinion of fire; when a method to create fire was eventually [and probably accidentally] developed, our ancestors had reason to understand and retain the ability to create fire, rather than discarding it due to fire's risk. The rest, as they say, is history.


  1. Interesting and compelling argument. Not sure I agree with the scarcity premise considering there is evidence for more settled communities among even pre-Homo Sapien cultures, which implies food stores or ample game readily at hand. However, your argument works with or without such a premise. Have you considered the possibility that human sacrifice by immolation - which was often followed by ritual cannibalism - might have been the source? There is evidence for both fire-worship and cannibalism in pre-Homo Sapien cultures, so it's not much of a leap.

  2. The immolation theory is interesting, though it raises a question: why immolation; involving fire in a sacrifice [the sacrificial act itself necessitating an impressively advanced intelligence] suggests a significant familiarity with fire as more than foe.

  3. I'm not sure that a sacrificial act needs to start in a very sophisticated way. Most ritual probably begins out of a sense of necessity or importance in the act itself. Immolation could have begun as a way to take care of the bodies of dead loved ones.

    Burying your loved ones in a shallow grave (due to inadequate shoveling devices) or leaving them in an open field risks their bodies being devoured by scavengers. A fire prevents rotting, has the dramatic effect of consuming the body fairly quickly, and the smoke released probably has a distinctly different look than that from a simple wood fire; this could have furthered the development of the idea of the soul or spirit. If fire was already seen as otherworldly or even deified, it could have become the chief way to commit your loved ones to the gods.

    Furthermore, the burning body probably let off a pleasing aroma at some point - supposedly, we taste like pig. If cannibalism already existed at that point, it wouldn't have been a great leap to try some of the cooked flesh.

  4. What I meant was, developing the notion of "sacrifice" would suggest that our ancestors entertained supernatural concepts; even at its most basic, metaphysics is still relatively complex, and, vis-à-vis our understanding of other intelligent species, is apparently not a common evolutionary occurrence. Our ancestors certainly made simple sacrifices, but developing the notion of "sacrifice" would have required several metaphysical predicates, I think, e.g., deification.