Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Make fudge, not war

Now when I say cooking is better than sex, I mean in an EVOLUTIONARY sense. Allegedly.

From today's Indo...

Why cooking is better than sex. . .
A new book claims it's what happens in the kitchen -- not the bedroom -- that has made humanity evolve. Susan Daly reports

By Susan Daly

Wednesday October 14 2009

A survey of women last year declared that chocolate was better than sex. A victorious sports captain might describe winning as better than sex. For sleep-deprived new parents, eight hours of kip can be better than ... You get the idea.

Indeed, sex might not be the force that binds men and women together. According to a Harvard anthropologist, the main shaping force of human social behaviour is: cooking.

Richard Wrangham, in his new book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, says that the turning point in our evolution into modern men and women came when we first thought of throwing a bit of meat on the fire.

Archaeology normally dates the birth of cooking back to 200,000 BC when the first evidence of charred bones and hearths appeared. Wrangham, however, goes back 1.9 million years to find what he says is the point at which humans started to perform rudimentary cooking.

It is that moment at which our ancestors' bodies evolved into Homo erectus, with smaller digestive systems, jaws and teeth and bigger brains. The reason for these changes, says Wrangham, is that we had learned to break food down by cooking it, freeing up all that energy previously used chewing and digesting to increase our brain power.

There might be something in this. Nutritionist Aveen Bannon says that a raw-food diet -- although somewhat in vogue these days -- can be a very difficult one in which to balance all your energy and nutritional needs.

"It can be phenomenally high in fibre, and so takes a lot of digestive work," she says. Indeed, chimps spend around six hours a day chewing their raw foodstuffs into submission.

"It takes lots of planning and dedication to make sure that you are getting all the calcium, iron, vitamins and minerals that you need from such a diet."

A famous research project called the Giessen Raw Food Study found that a raw-food diet can't "guarantee an adequate energy supply".

The release of energy from raw food takes a lot longer to permeate the human body than cooked food, says Bannon.

There is no doubting that cooking food freed up time and energy for our ancestors to evolve. More controversial is Wrangham's contention that the first human 'marriages' were about food, not sex. The discovery of cooking, he says, led to relationships between the sexes that were "primitive protection rackets".

Men protected women from animals and other creatures attracted by the light and smell of the cooking fire. Women in return slaved for them over a hot cooking pit.

Is this the real truth behind the old chestnut, 'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach'?

"Over the past decades we have understood that our social system comes through the competition for reproductive partners," Wrangham says. "I'm saying, pair bonds are firstly about food, and that gave a platform to develop those relationships further."

Dr Abdullahai El Tom of the Department of Anthropology in NUI Maynooth, is an expert in the anthropology of food. He agrees that cooking food helped advance society by widening the choice of what was edible.

"But it was not the foundation of society," he insists. "It makes a wonderful story but it should be seen more as an addition, among many other things, to human society as it evolved over time."

As for the assumption that women were immediately chained to the primitive stove, Dr El Tom is not convinced.

"The original cook would not have used tools at all, it would have been very simply cooking by roasting and I don't know how he could prove that women had to do it." In fact, he points out mischievously, "look at the barbecue in summer, you will find men dominating them still."

However, food is still a major part of how we construct our social selves. Dr El Tom believes how we eat is as important to our sense of identity as how we dress. Food is very indicative today of where we are headed.

'Society is becoming more individualistic and our use of food asserts that," says Dr El Tom. "The communal stage, where families mostly sat down to dinner together, is coming to an end. There is a transformation in the way we approach food, even down to the family that sits together but serves three or four different meals at the one table."

Where food used to augment the family relationship, it is now more likely to be a cohesive force among friends (the new family?) or to impress your status by meeting at a particular restaurant.

Yet the romantic dinner survives as a cultural motif. Cooking for someone for the first time can be a very intimate gesture. This might hold an echo back to a time when it really mattered to a husband that he could come home to a meal cooked by his wife.

But be warned, gentlemen, women have evolved to the point where they no longer desire to be the only ape in the kitchen.
Wednesday October 14 2009

Richard Wrangham contests that cooking, not sex, was the initial binding force between humans. Whatever the truth of why our ancestors paired off, the twin imperatives of food and sex have become culturally intertwined.

Oysters, chocolate and asparagus are a byword for sensual pleasure. This menu, drawn from the chefs at, suggests a few new ways to your partner's heart ...

STARTER: Spicy garlic shrimp

Why? The ancient Greeks used to feed garlic to Olympians because it was purported to improve stamina. Scientists have recently found that the chemical substance behind the distinctive whiff of garlic, far from being a turn-off, is also present in female sexual secretions.

Ingredients: 400g peeled shrimp; 5 tbsp olive oil; 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes; 3 cloves garlic, crushed; sea salt.

Method: 1. Add the pepper flakes and garlic to the olive oil and leave to infuse for an hour.

2. Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat, adding shrimp and cooking 2 mins each side.

3. Season and serve on crusty French bread.

MAIN: Wild mushroom risotto with seared scallops

Why? Often overlooked by romantics in favour of the oyster, scallops are high in phosphorus and iodine. Iodine deficiency has been documented as reducing sex drive. Mushrooms are lauded by several South Pacific cultures for their aphrodisiacal qualities on women.

Ingredients: Two tbsp olive oil; 400g scallops, crescent-shaped muscles discarded; salt and pepper; 1 shallot, minced; 1 garlic clove, minced; 200g assorted mushrooms; 1 tbsp thyme leaves; 1 tbsp chopped parsley; 2 bay leaves; 1 cup arborio rice; half-cup dry white wine; 4 cups chicken stock, heated; 1 tbsp butter; handful grated parmesan cheese.

Method: 1. On medium heat, cook the shallot and garlic in 1tbsp oil in large, deep skillet, stirring for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and herbs and cook for about 10 minutes. Season.

2. Add the rice and stir 2 minutes to coat with the oil; the grains will turn opaque. Season again. Stir in wine and cook 1 minute.

3. Pour in 1 cup of the warm stock and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Stir constantly and add stock, 1 cup at a time, until rice has absorbed all liquid.

4. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper and brown on another pan over medium-high with 1tbsp oil. Remove after 2 minutes.

5. When risotto is cooked, fold in the butter and cheese, top with the scallops and drizzle with olive oil. Serve hot.

DESSERT: Bananas in hot fudge

Why? It's all about the banana. Potassium and B vitamins are bananas' gift to healthy sex hormone production. The banana is an important aphrodisiac in Central America and India (where it is offered as a gift to the fertility gods) and in Islam, the banana, not the apple, was the forbidden fruit in Eden.

Ingredients: 2 bananas; 375g condensed milk; 450g castor sugar; 100g softened butter; 1tsp vanilla extract

Method: 1. Freeze the peeled bananas overnight.

2. Put butter in saucepan over medium heat. As it melts, add condensed milk, sugar and vanilla extract.

3. Gently stir the mixture around until the sugar dissolves. Still stirring, bring the mixture to a rolling boil and then turn down the heat.

4. Keep cooking the fudge mixture while stirring at low heat (8-10 mins). Do not stop stirring or it will caramelise too quickly.

5. Serve lengthway slices of the frozen banana to dip into the still-liquid hot fudge.

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