Thursday, May 28, 2009

creatures of the flame


We all are creatures of the flame,
Promethei, who’ve learned to tame
the fires on our hearths, and cook.
Cool, culinary was the hook
that brought us all together to
prepare a carnophilic stew,
to which we added veggies which
when raw don’t satisfy the itch
to eat, and cannot generate
the energy to masticate
and then digest the healthy herb,
but cooked with meat can taste superb,
unleashing flavors when they’re heated,
producing gas before excreted
if they’re cruciferous––the price
that may be worth the sacrifice.

Flames taught us to respect the cook,
who may, if gourmet, write a book
that if a New York Times best seller
can teach you about Salmonella,
which people get when they reheat
their unrefrigerated meat,
while if he’s merely a consumer
of food, and has a sense of humor,
may write a poem about food,
and treat it as beatitude,
like cheesemakers once blessed by Brian
before the temple burnt in Zion,
long after food was spoiled by dames
whom guys told, “You must watch the flames
while we go find ourselves some beer,”
and ruined on the flames the deer
that had received the benison
that hunters give to venison,
because they were not supervised
as dames must be, or be despised
if they’re allowed to spoil the food
that, when well cooked, God said was good.

Inspired by Dwight Garner’s review of Richard Wrangham’s book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” (“Why Are Humans Different From All Other Apes? It’s the Cooking, Stupid,” NYT, May 27, 2009):
Human beings are not obviously equipped to be nature’s gladiators. We have no claws, no armor. That we eat meat seems surprising, because we are not made for chewing it uncooked in the wild. Our jaws are weak; our teeth are blunt; our mouths are small. That thing below our noses? It truly is a pie hole. To attend to these facts, for some people, is to plead for vegetarianism or for a raw-food diet. We should forage and eat the way our long-ago ancestors surely did. For Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard and the author of “Catching Fire,” however, these facts and others demonstrate something quite different. They help prove that we are, as he vividly puts it, “the cooking apes, the creatures of the flame.” The title of Mr. Wrangham’s new book — “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” — sounds a bit touchy-feely. Perhaps, you think, he has written a meditation on hearth and fellow feeling and s’mores. He has not. “Catching Fire” is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution, one he calls “the cooking hypothesis,” one that Darwin (among others) simply missed.
Apes began to morph into humans, and the species Homo erectus emerged some two million years ago, Mr. Wrangham argues, for one fundamental reason: We learned to tame fire and heat our food. “Cooked food does many familiar things,” he observes. “It makes our food safer, creates rich and delicious tastes and reduces spoilage. Heating can allow us to open, cut or mash tough foods. But none of these advantages is as important as a little-appreciated aspect: cooking increases the amount of energy our bodies obtain from food.” He continues: “The extra energy gave the first cooks biological advantages. They survived and reproduced better than before. Their genes spread. Their bodies responded by biologically adapting to cooked food, shaped by natural selection to take maximum advantage of the new diet. There were changes in anatomy, physiology, ecology, life history, psychology and society.” Put simply, Mr. Wrangham writes that eating cooked food — whether meat or plants or both —made digestion easier, and thus our guts could grow smaller. The energy that we formerly spent on digestion (and digestion requires far more energy than you might imagine) was freed up, enabling our brains, which also consume enormous amounts of energy, to grow larger. The warmth provided by fire enabled us to shed our body hair, so we could run farther and hunt more without overheating. Because we stopped eating on the spot as we foraged and instead gathered around a fire, we had to learn to socialize, and our temperaments grew calmer.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/27/09

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