The art of cooking and ability to make easily digestible food that provides more energy sets human beings apart from the animal species.
Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist from Harvard University argues in his book ‘Catching Fire’ that it was not tool making or meat eating or even language that made difference but the art of cooking that makes all the difference.
Indian religious books do not dwell on the subject. However there are detailed essays by several western authors from 18th century till recent time. Wrangham book caused a major controversy. Many have been writing on art of cooking and not only on recipes.
He also claims that advent of cooked food was a major milestone in the process of evolution. It took over the main functions of digestion of food within as cooking turned the food into a digestive commodity. Other animal species still spend lot of time on chewing raw food as they cannot cook but humans have been relieved of the struggle and usage of energy within that is needed for digesting food so that it can become a major and only source of emerging human bodies. Human brain is the main guzzler of energy within. Though in size it is not even 2.5 per cent of the entire structure of human body, it guzzles twenty per cent of the energy generated within.
Above all use of fire and heat results in detoxification of several sources hidden within the food items to make them safer. Gulping raw meat or raw vegetables has a risk of undesired bacteria also entering human body. Governments and social activists have been struggling for decades to seek reduction of tobacco consumption world over as it holds a potential of causing cancer in human bodies. Warnings are written largely with head skeleton with two crossed bones below it to warn consumers of dangers of smoking or consuming tobacco in any form. Though tobacco is cured, it is not cooked with heat to kill the potentially dangerous germs hidden within.
Cooking has made available a treasure trove of calories to human beings that are not available to other species. In addition, it also relieved humans from spending considerable time on gathering their food, consuming it as a large expense and unnecessary expenditure of energy on digesting raw food. Cooking the meal was responsible for bringing the entire family together in the evening hours, relaxed and at leisure to discuss affairs of the world while consuming what has been made by their women folk spending as much as three hours. The dinner became symbol of the culture, social status and ampleness of economic resources within the family. Food items that adorned the dining table, their taste, their looks and texture tell the story how civilized was the family.
Thus cooked meal was not only a lace that bound entire family together, it can be used for enlarging social circles as well by inviting others from society to share meals on social occasions. In earlier times, till the first half of the last century such occasions were used for reflecting the culture of the family. Meals were not out-sources but were cooked at home. Only when gathering was large such as on wedding occasions that outside help was sought to reduce burden of cooking on women folks of the family as they are expected to attend to other functions related to the wedding in the family.
However times are fast changing with women moving out of their kitchens and shedding of their main responsibility of feeding the family. With advent of the girls education, they have moved out of kitchen. The vacuum is being filled by others, particularly corporate bodies that prepare processed food and provide in safe packages to be used within the minimum time to prepare food for their family because women are attending different vocations outside their homes. I still remember my mother spending nearly three hours in the morning and four hours every evening to make meals for my family. My daughter does not spend any time in kitchen though her two maids toil for same time as my mother used to. Only thing that has not changed is sharing of the evening meals by entire family.
Modernisation of life is much more rapid in the Western countries, particularly in America where every kind of food is available in packages at every retail outlet. The packets are brought home. Safe water is added to the contents and microwave oven gives the meal within minutes. One survey indicates that American women spend merely 27 minutes a day on preparation of meals for the family. It used to be few hours only a century earlier.
Life is now easier because meals can be prepared quickly without much effort on preparatory works like cutting vegetables or curing meat brought from outside and then marinating it to soften it for cooking. However it has taken a heavier toll of individual tastes of their food. Processed food packets provide meals in most of homes. It tastes alike in every home. It also contains chemicals that are added as preservatives to extend their durability of use for a longer period. Though corporate claim it to be safe and taste enhancing durable product, there are no guarantees that these chemicals would not leave marks of damage on human bodies.
Majority of Indians due to their economic conditions are still loyal to old concepts of cooking food at home. Even rich have helpers who prepare food for the family at home. Only those couples who are both working depend on outer sources for their evening meals. Bringing food from outside for consuming at home also involves need of cleansing utensils used for it. Hence many of them would prefer to pay a heavier price for their meals in a proper ambiences for the evening meals.
But in every culture it is stated that no meal can taste same as first morsel that a person’s mother fed him or her. But all that is a distant memory….