Last night my husband came in from tennis and said he’d convinced our neighbor, his doubles partner, to plant a vegetable garden on the side of the house. All I could think is: wow. My husband has gone along with most of my green efforts, especially when they include saving money, like changing to CFS light bulbs, using cloth napkins and wipes and shutting off the lights with a vengeance. But it isn’t his crusade.
In fact while we both want to grow some veggies, he’s acting out of fun while I see it as a political act, ever the poli sci major, I guess. So when I heard he’d been urging our neighbor to join us in a victory garden, I knew we were on to something.
I immediately envisioned conversations over the backyard wall, the sharing of extra basil, the sharing of extra zucchini, the sharing of a beer and a barbecue. The whole 50s thing.
Maybe this is what it’s all about. Baking bread, eating a meal with family and friends, growing something - from agriculture to cities to culture. From seeds to Cezanne.
The Economist ran an article recently, What’s Cooking, about the first of five reports from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science where they look at the evolutionary role of cookery.
You are what you eat, or so the saying goes. But Richard Wrangham, of Harvard University, believes that this is true in a more profound sense than the one implied by the old proverb. It is not just you who are what you eat, but the entire human species. And with Homo sapiens, what makes the species unique in Dr Wrangham’s opinion is that its food is so often cooked.
Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.
In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.
So stay tuned. We’ve been tearing up our yard, planting seeds inside and laying out the plan. Our neighbor already has a plum tree. How about a bushel of plums for a basket of tomatoes? And don’t forget the beer and the hot dogs. It’s going to be a long hot summer.