It is the ultimate domestic cliché: a woman, beautiful and dutiful, tending a stove all day in preparation for her husband’s homecoming. As soon as he walks in, the ritual can begin: family members take their seats around the table (he sits at the head, of course) and dinner is served.
Couples are reliving a scene that has played out billions of times in our history because gender roles — husband at work all day, woman as homebody — have been forged not by relatively recent social conventions but by our distant evolutionary past.
We are the "cooking ape," according to Richard Wrangham, a noted British anthropologist and primatologist at Harvard University. The unrivalled success of the human species comes down to its mastery of flame and using it to transform raw food into cooked food.
The human species was built on hot dinners, not cold plants and berries, according to Wrangham. The theory is cold comfort for the raw food movement, which believes that it is natural and healthier to eat uncooked food.
"I believe the transformative moment that gave rise to the genus Homo, one of the great transitions in the history of life, stemmed from the control of fire and the advent of cooked meals," Wrangham explains in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
"Cooking increased the [caloric] value of our food. It changed our bodies, our brains, our use of time and our social lives.” He argues, as no one else has done before, that cooking was pivotal in evolution. "If you feed a chimp cooked food for tens of thousands of years, I find it hard to believe that it would end up looking like the same animal."