Book Review: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Considering the evolution of humans in the context of food and cooking is a fascinating subject. Why do we eat the foods we do, as opposed to the food chimpanzees eat? How did we develop cooking, and what effect did it have on our morphological development? Why do we like the flavours of the foods we do? ‘Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human‘ examines the hypothesis that it was actually the development of cooking which was a major evolutionary transition. The physical composition of cooked food is different from that of raw food, changing the costs of digestion like chewing, resulting in different developments in humans, like smaller jawbones than chimpanzees. Similarly, the way societies evolved, and the community structure we have is based around the collection and distribution of food. There were a lot of key advances in human society due to culinary developments, and ‘Catching Fire’ is one of the few books I have seen that looks at them.

Perhaps more of a popular science book than a food book, you won’t find any recipes or many applications of the evolutionary ideas to modern day cooking.┬áBut you will find a good amount of theory- well sourced and ideas clearly explained- concerning our culinary development. I might have hoped for a little more detail in developing the ideas, and perhaps some discussion of how these ideas affect our gastronomy today- the book has a large font and, without the ‘notes’ sections, only totals around 200 pages. There are many interesting examples for each idea presented, looking at tribes which developed society independently of ours. Overall, there are a lot of good ideas presented, and it’s worth a read, from both a science and a culinary perspective. 8/10.