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Cassie Tolhurst

Professor Campbell
ANTH 1020 Section 4
Food for Thought: The Early Human Diet

Food and cooking acts as a centerpiece to modern society. We do a majority of our bonding over
a dinner table, and careers are made in a kitchen. From Mcdonalds, to home-made cooking, or even a
five star restaurant, food is seen in all aspects human culture across the entire globe. What influence did
our diet have on shaping of modern day humans? We can see the effects of a cheese burger on our
bellies and a high protein and low fat diet on our muscles, but what effects did early humans diets have
on the way they evolved?
Humans, and some of our recent ancestors are the only species that cook and prepare our food.
This practice may have started as far back as 1.8 million years ago by the now extinct Homo erectus.
(Dell'Amore, 2009) As we know now, cooking our food can improve the taste and eliminate health risks,
but why would such an early species benefit from this? A Harvard University biological anthropologist,
Richard Wrentham, stands behind his hypothesis that the reason why the early humans who learned to
cook thrived is because it decreases the energy cost of eating. (Mott, 2012)
The process of cooking can soften things that were once hard, it breaks down proteins, and
turns starches mushier. All of these benefits make the digestion of food significantly easier and makes
absorbing the nutrients more efficient. 100 percent of a cooked meal is metabolized by the body,
whereas raw foods yield just 30 or 40 percent of their nutrients. (Mott, 2012) Wrentham says that
natural selection is constantly trying to maximize energy, and this is a very effective way to decrease
expenditure. (Dell'Amore, 2009)
Supporting a larger brain actually requires more calories and nutrients than any other body
mass. () In addition to cooking, a shift in our ancestors to maritime culture may have been how we were
able to support our larger brains and actually helped the growth thrive. Fish and aquatic reptiles are
made up of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that acted as brain food to boost our encephalization
ratio, wish is body mass to brain size. (Dell'Amore, 2010)
The easiest way to analyze what a species ate is to see what goes in them, or analyze what
comes out. Unfortunately studying a species that arent around anymore it is hard to see what they ate
other than going off of other clues that were left. Although a 50,000 year old Neanderthal fecal sample
was found and scientists were given a unique view into what their diet may have been. It showed traces
of mainly meat, but also plant substances and even berries. (Vergano, 2014) One of the reasons early
humans were successful for so long, was the fact that they had a diverse and adaptable diet.
What we put in our mouths can satiate hunger and curb our cravings, it can make a place feel
like home, or even act as an aphrodisiac. Food is such an important part of modern culture, and also was
a very large part of our evolution. It helped fuel our brain size, and gave us the competitive and
evolutionary edge. Food was never just a quick bite to eat to our ancestors. It was how they survived.

Works Cited

Dell'Amore, C. (2010, June 2). Eating Crocodile Helped Boost Early Human Brains?. National Geographic.
Dell'Amore, C. (2009, February 13). Cooking Gave Humans Edge Over Apes?. National Geographic.
Mott, N. (2012, October 26). What Makes Us Human? Cooking, Study Says. National Geographic.
Vergano, D. (2014, June 25). What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals' Diet.
National Geographic.