Since I started teaching a course on the Evolution of Cultural Diets I have been researching some really interesting topics, including what our ancient ancestors really ate and when we starting using fire to cook our food.
This is a fascinating TED Talk discussing some of the evolutionary changes that may have resulted from the use of fire to cook our food.
The fact that humans are the only animals that cook their food is an argument made by both proponents of the raw foods diet as well as those that think it is essential to cook our food:
When we start looking at our brain and the number of neurons it has compared to other animals we start to realize that we are quite unique. It is thought that what allowed our brain to increase its number of neurons was the cooking of food, because this allowed for more energy to be absorbed from our diets.
Now, what does this mean in terms of our modern day diet? And is this a solid argument against raw foods?
If we look at the status of our health, especially in North America, it is obvious that most of our chronic health conditions are the result of eating too much calorically-dense and nutritionally-void foods - essentially we are overfed and under-nourished.
We no longer have the food scarcity and inconsistency that our gatherer-hunter ancestors did, a diet that most likely was not able to provide enough energy for our expanding brain size and thus would have greatly benefited from the utilization of cooking.
What is important to realize is that we now have the tools, technology, and nutritional research to allow us to meet the energy demands of our brain and body on a raw food diet if we chose to do so:
Does this mean I am advocating a 100% raw food diet?
Well, not really. I feel like that should be up to you and be based on your own individual health goals, lifestyle, and intuition - learning to listen to your body is incredibly valuable. However, you should know that raw food recipes are very versatile and can be tailored to your individual constitution and seasonal changes.
Personally, what brings me peace in my life is being able to be flexible, especially in social settings. For me this means eating as much raw food as possible but not being so strict that I feel it is negatively impacting my social, emotional, or mental health - my choices are always vegan but not always raw.
How I put this in practice is to eat a raw breakfast, usually a smoothie or chia pudding, have a large salad for lunch - usually all raw if I have sprouted nuts and seeds to add but if not I will add cooked lentils or cooked quinoa, and then dinner can vary between 50-100% raw - depending if I am at home or out for dinner at a new vegan restaurant.
I invite you to experiment and find what works for you, and to never ever feel deprived or restricted by what you eat - food is supposed to bring us joy and nourish our mind, body, and soul.
The reason all my workshops and recipes I post are raw is because I love the culinary arts of raw foods and feel like the more people learn how to prepare food this way the more they will be inspired by healthy whole-food plant-based meals that will make them feel vibrant and energized!
I hope you enjoy the video! I don't really agree with everything in the video, especially whether or not we can fairly judge other animals in terms of consciousness - we don't speak their language so how can we ever know for sure the inner workings of an animals thoughts and awareness.
Also, there are of course other theories for what led to our evolutionary changes, and may in fact be a combination of many factors, however, I still find that this is an interesting video.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.