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Who's in the Video
Richard Wrangham is a professor of biology and anthropology at Harvard University who studies chimpanzees, and their behavior, in Uganda. His main interest is in the question of human evolution[…]

Will raw foodists evolve differently from humans who eat cooked food?

Question: Will there be evolutionary differences in the way raw foodists change in the next 50 years? 

Richard Wrangham: Well, no one is personally going to evolve in 50 years. So, raw foodists are romantics very often, or sometimes they're just practical people who discovered a way to make themselves feel better. A common reason for eating raw food is that people find that they have reduced symptoms of allergic reaction. And it looks as though some people are simply allergic to some of the consequences of cooking. 

So, if you discover that and you eat raw, you'll feel a lot better. Some people do it for philosophical reasons that we are animals; animals eat their food raw, so we ought to eat our food raw. And I say, I think this is wrong because we are the animals that have evolved to eat our food cooked. 

I'm full of admiration for raw foodists because it's an incredibly difficult thing to do particularly when people start. They describe how much of a struggle it is not to go out and get a candy bar, some bread, some pizza, or whatever it is. And it's a very awkward way to eat because it takes quite a long time to prepare your food. You have to eat a lot because you're basically hungry all the time. And so it interferes with your social life. Raw foodists tend to hang out with raw foodists. It changes a lot about your life. But, for those people who find it works for them, it clearly works really, really well. And there are a lot of us who would like to emulate this because it's a great way to lose weight. It's the ultimate way to control you're own body. 

Question: How does cooking bring humans together? 

Richard Wrangham: Yeah, the way to a man's heart is through is stomach, and all that sort of thing. I don't know. It's a sort of funny thing because people have long noted that cooking is very sociable. We like to eat with each other around the fire, we like to bring the food out of the oven together and eat as a meal. And yet there is no simple logical reason. There's no sort of technical reason why that should be. 

It's perfectly possible for an individual to cook for themselves, alone, for years as the model for Robinson Crusoe did, Alexander Selca in living alone on a tropical island for years. And we could all be doing that in theory. Why we do it nowadays, well I'm sure there's lots of cultural history to that. But I'm kind of interested in the question of why it starts. Why the pattern of people congregating in the evening to share the evening meal. Why does that happen in hunter/gathers and small-scale open-air societies? 

And there, I think, one can make a reasonable answer that it derives ultimately from something a little bit competitive and that is that anybody that cooks is giving a clear signal to everyone else that there is going to be food ready fairly soon. And they end up being vulnerable to the hungry and the lazy and the scroungers, who for one reason or another, don't have any food of their own and want to take some. And the short story, I think is that the tendency for us all to congregate and eat meals together represents the outcome of a system of social regulation, which is ultimately designed to protect those who are producing the food. And I think the way it works, ultimately, is that the women end up producing the food, there are men who could take it, and what happens is that women marry and the husband is functionally, among his other very important functions, he is there to protect her food from some lousy bachelor who comes home, is incredibly hungry and can't resist taking some food of the fire as soon as the cook's back is turned. And you see this written up and described in small-scale societies. The bachelors are thin and they're hungry and nobody's there to cook for them. And they have a problem. And the married men are superior to them and kind of keep them down. 

So that's one of the dynamics, but it means that it's great for husband's and wives to eat together, and of course the children are there, and then it can extend easily to others in the camp and suddenly you've got a rosy feeling and now you can afford, maybe in a sort of regulated way to give food out to those who don't have it. 

Question: What do you see as the new relationship between food and sex, or food and marriage? 

Richard Wrangham: I don't know how the new relationships are going or where they will go. I just think there's going to be many fewer constraints in the future. I think in the past, this has been a major constraint, the fact that you needed to have somebody in the household cooking for others and it was the women for I think reasons because men were able to get away with it. That is increasingly going to go away and isn't that great. We can get away from one particular source of sexist unfairness, and I think it heralds a much more exciting world in which women are able to participate in the professions and the life of the community to a far greater extent than before. 
Recorded on March 5, 2010