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HomeLIFESTYLEFood & Kitchen SecretsHow humans learnt to cook before eating

How humans learnt to cook before eating

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My friend Anil Jain, Khud Arya (self-made wise) as he preferred to be known, was an expert phrenologist. Phrenology is the art of reading the face, and human body features to predict the nature, characteristics, and habits. Khud Arya could read humans from their few steps. He was a consultant to several jewelers of Delhi. He would say that every human face has three parts- eyes and earspenguin-cook represent the past; nose – present, and mouth- the future. The eyes and ears are past because whatever is heard and seen forms the memory. With your nose, you breathe and live, so it represents present. With mouth, you eat and gain energy to survive. That is why it is called the future.

Eating is the important activity for survival. Still cooking is considered to be a low priority activity, to be performed by women. In the scheme of things that women were considered inferior human beings, hence laden with activities like cooking, cleaning and feeding the family.

Eating involves the use of tongue and taste buds. However ears and eyes are considered more important organs because they help men to unravel secrets of the universe and enlarge their knowledge as well as to comprehend the true meaning of life and living. Similarly, the activities involving the use of brain and mind are accorded high priority.

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Cooking is not merely preparing meals to feed the hungry. It involves making of social bonds, strengthening the family ties reflecting the status and social culture of the family and the society of which the family is a part. Cooking differs according to culture.

Eating is not merely a biological act — it is a part of the social structure and culture. Not just now but even when men were wandering all over to hunt their food and gather roots and morsels that can safely feed their bellies.

Cooking also involves the use of four elements of the Earth- Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. In Gujarat and Maharashtra, Poha- puffed and flattened rice is mixed with a mixture of milk and sugar and placed in a cooking pot tied with a white cloth at the mouth. It is then, placed on the roof where the moon rays fall on it for the whole night on the full-moon night of the twelfth month of the Indian calendar. Next morning every member of the family partakes it because of the belief that moon has poured its nectar into the mixture. Please note that all three ingredients are white. Thus even sky the fourth element is also included in the preparation of meals.

No one knows when and how humans learned to use fire for cooking. The carbon tests of an old oven found in Egypt revealed it to be half a million-year-old. Use of fire in cooking is disputed as no other remains of oven, bones, or burnt food have so far been discovered by Archeologists so far. There are several speculations – a few of them are pure imagination. For instance, one written story by Charles Lamb – a British writer pertains to a shepherd from China called Hochi whose son Bobo was fond of playing with fire. One day, when Hochi had gone out to graze his sheep, Bobo’s mischief put their hut on fire. It got completely burnt along with a piglet. Bobo panicked and did not know what to do. However soon, the aroma apparently emanating from the burnt piglet spread around. Bobo pierced his finger in its body. The hot body burnt his finger, so he put it in his mouth. The roasted piglet’s flesh stuck to his finger tasted so delicious that he began to eat pieces from the stomach of piglet. It was a surprise for him, as though the family had been eating raw pigs for years; surprisingly the meat had never tasted so delicious before.

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When he returned Hochi furious that Bobo had not only burnt down the hut but was eating roasted meat. So Bobo took a piece of the meat closer to his father’s mouth. The aroma made Hochi also take a bite. In no food pottime, both of them finished eating the entire pig. There after they regularly set fire to their huts with piglet tied inside and enjoyed the newly discovered process of roasting meal but without revealing to others if their settlement.

But the regular fires in their hut around curiosity in the settlement and everyone discovered how to make the meat more palatable, easy to digest and provide energy more comfortably.

Every intake of eatables involves an intricate process of digestion; the digestive system has to work hard to extract proteins and carbohydrates from food. But enzymes can work comfortably if the lactose are softened.

In the past humans and other primates, used to hunt and eat the flesh of their prey raw; hence there was no fixed time for meals. As soon as meat became available, it was put in the mouth and chewed for hours to soften the tissues before they reach intestines. Hence mouth continued to be active even while they attended to other activities.

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But the accidental discovery of fire provided to human softened pieces of meat that was easy to digest without putting excessive load on the internal digestive system. An interesting study on the food habits reveals that Chimpanzees continue to chew their food the whole day and have exactly 18 minutes of spare for hunting whereas humans are spared hours to attend to other activities.

Cooking has considerably reduced the time humans spent on biting, chewing and trying to digest their meals.

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Vijay Sanghvi
Vijay Sanghvi
Political Commentator and Analyst Vijay Sanghvi, 81 has created a niche for himself as a seasoned media person with proven credentials and political, economic and social analyst since 1962. Sanghvi worked for five years in Mumbai for Gujarati papers before shifting to Delhi and continued to work for various dailies in Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi and English as well as for international media. He has many newsbreaks to his credit as well as inside view of many epoch making events. He covered parliamentary proceedings from 1967 till 2007.


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