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Origins of cooking
Organ, Chris Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- When and why did cooking evolve?
- Evolutionary (phylogenetic) analysis
- Cooking is about more than calories
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
How an animal obtains and consumes its food is a defining characteristic of a species. It also provides information that can be used to broadly categorize animals. Many primates, for example, are omnivorous and consume a variety of food types, including fruits, leaves, and insects. Omnivorous primates have ecological and evolutionary relationships with local plant species that are different from those of local carnivores. Diet also plays an important role in shaping the anatomy and physiology of animals. Some primate species, for instance, have independently evolved adaptations to digest foliage. Species within the Old World monkey group Colobinae are foregut fermenters with compartmentalized stomachs, whereas hindgut fermenters such as some strepsirrhine folivores (leaf-eating lemurs, including species of Indriidae) have compartmentalized ceca and long and coiled colons. Not all dietary adaptations are found in the gut; changes also occur in the limbs, salivary glands, teeth, and skull. Some primates also use tools to obtain and process food. Although basic tool use (stone hammers and sticks) has been observed in wild capuchin monkeys (New World monkeys of the subfamily Cebinae), it has been extensively documented in great apes (Hominidae). For example, chimpanzees (genus Pan) [Fig. 1] create termite-collecting sticks by using their teeth to clip off leaves. Although chimpanzees eat fruits, leaves, and insects, they also hunt other primates, and they even use sticks that have been fashioned into spears in this activity. Chimpanzees also process food to a surprising degree, having been observed pounding oil-palm stems, mashing and soaking fruit in water, and chewing raw meat with tough leaves that have no nutritional value (which apparently aids in mastication). Processing food increases the number of freely available calories compared with unprocessed food of the same type. Therefore, food-processing behaviors are important for individual fitness because, over time, increased caloric intake influences reproductive success.
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