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 help make raw foods be easier to digest. They can be great part of a healthy, well-rounded plant based diet, but it may not be easy enough to rely solely on raw foods:
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, climate you live in, and intuition - learning to listen to your body is incredibly valuable.
Raw food recipes are very versatile and can be tailored to your individual constitution and seasonal changes, but it is also a very restricted way to eat, making it difficult to get a proper balance of macronutrients and micronutrients.
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.
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 it 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 specializing in vegan diets.