Brainfood: Cooking

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Cooking: the key to evolutionary success

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Nutritional maxims remind us that our brains need a steady supply of energy, exhort us to feed our kids a healthy breakfast before school, and instruct us on the foods we should eat to think our best. Extrapolating from nutritional observations, Brazilian evolutionary neuroscientists Suzana Herculano-Houzel and Karina Fonseca-Azevedo have defined the metabolic limits of brain growth possible for primates on a raw food diet. Since juicers hadn’t yet been invented, they claim cooking was the key enabling humanity’s ancestors to evolve bigger brains.

“If you eat only raw food, there are not enough hours in the day to get enough calories to build such a large brain,” says Herculano-Houzel. “We can afford more neurons, thanks to cooking.”

Evolutionists believe humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. Modern apes have smaller brains than humans. And human brains utilize 20% of the body’s energy at rest compared to only 9% for primate animals.1 Evolutionists therefore search through the sands of time to find what fueled the evolution of bigger and presumably brighter brains. Herculano-Houzel and Fonseca-Azevedo write, “The human brain is a linearly scaled-up primate brain in its relationship between brain size and number of neurons.”2


This is the cover of the 2009 edition of Richard Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. In it he claims that because cooked food made more calories available faster than foraging, hominid ancestors were able to evolve into progressively more advanced human forms. He also suggests that cooking increased social interaction and so helped develop human civilization. Thus cooking gets the credit for fueling the intellectual advancement of early humans. Wrangham’s ideas have been examined in several studies this year. In none of the studies however has any researcher been able to demonstrate any way that ape-like ancestors could acquire the genetic information to develop larger and more intellectually and spiritually advanced brains. Image credit: Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (2009) from

The neuroscientists counted the number of brain neurons in 13 species of primates as well as a number of other mammals. Having thus confirmed that brain size and the number of neurons are proportional, they estimated the number of neurons in living great apes, “extinct hominins,”3 and modern humans. Then they calculated the energy requirements for those neurons. And finally, adjusting for body mass, they estimated how long each primate would have to eat raw food each day to support its brain’s needs.

Chimps and orangutans could get by on 7.3 and 7.8 hours a day, but gorillas need to munch their veggies for 8.8 hours a day. Modern humans cross the line of feasibility with a 9.3 hour requirement. “Apes can’t afford both brain and body,” Herculano-Houzel says, and “King Kong could not exist,” even with a pea-brain.4

Homo erectus, an early human with an average brain size thought to have been slightly smaller than modern humans, fell into the calculations between the gorillas and modern humans. Since archaeologists have found evidence that Homo erectus cooked (see “Promethean Hypothesis from Cooking Fire”), the neuroscientists conclude that a raw diet placed a limit on potential brain power, a limit that Homo erectus overcame with its hearth fires. They write, “This limitation was probably overcome in Homo erectus with the shift to a cooked diet. Absent the requirement to spend most available hours of the day feeding, the combination of newly freed time and a large number of brain neurons affordable on a cooked diet may thus have been a major positive driving force to the rapid increase in brain size in human evolution.”5

“The reason we have more neurons than any other animal alive is that cooking allowed this qualitative change—this step increase in brain size,” Herculano-Houzel explains. “By cooking, we managed to circumvent the limitation of how much we can eat in a day.” Evolutionists consider this analysis support for Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham’s “cooking hypothesis.” The title of Wrangham’s book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, sums up his contention that learning to control fire and cook food was the secret to humanity’s evolutionary success (for more information see “Cooking: The World’s Oldest Profession” and “Promethean Hypothesis from Cooking Fire.”) He pointed out that cooking makes more calories available faster and facilitates growth. Wrangham agrees that this study confirms “an ape could not achieve a brain as big as in recent humans while maintaining a typical ape diet.”

Evolutionists assume humans evolved from ape-like ancestors simply because we exist, not because of experimental proof.

Of course, the notion that learning to control fire has been the key to humanity’s success is nothing new. Ancient Greeks believed that the demigod Prometheus stole fire and gave it to man in defiance of Zeus’s restrictions. Control of fire and all sorts of technology historically has advanced human civilization (there being no other kind). But the idea that being able to cook food transformed ape-like nonhumans into humans by enabling them to grow more neurons falls into the category of myth, like the Promethean story. Both are “just-so-stories.” Evolutionists assume humans evolved from ape-like ancestors simply because we exist, not because of experimental proof.

“Gorillas are stuck with this limitation of how much they can eat in a day; orangutans are stuck there; H. erectus would be stuck there if they had not invented cooking,” Herculano-Houzel reasons. “The more I think about it, the more I bow to my kitchen. It's the reason we are here.” She concludes, “Much more than harnessing fire, what truly allowed us to become human was using fire for cooking.”6 But her belief about our origins—which unlike the number of neurons in a brain and the number of calories obtainable from food is not amenable to actual scientific testing—is based purely upon her evolutionary worldview, not upon verifiable science.

Knowing that bigger brains require an efficient supply of energy in no way supports the notion of human evolution. Neither cooking food nor learning to walk upright could transform a hypothetical ape-like ancestor into a human being. God created the first two humans in His image, having unique mental and spiritual attributes, on the sixth day of Creation Week, about 6,000 years ago. According to Genesis chapter one, He made land animals, including apes, the same day. He created all kinds of living things to reproduce after their kinds, not to evolve into more complex kinds. And while our common Designer gave us some similar physical features, He created apes and humans with distinct intellectual and spiritual differences. Nothing in the fossil record or genetics actually demonstrates human evolution from ape-like ancestors; such connections are the unverifiable conclusions of evolutionists superimposed on the actual “facts.”

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Answers in Depth

2012 Volume 7


  1. Ann Gibbons, “Live Chat: Did Cooking Lead to Bigger Brains?,” Science,
  2. Karina Fonseca-Azevedo and Suzana Herculano-Houzel, “Metabolic Constraint Imposes Tradeoff Between Body Size and Number of Brain Neurons in Human Evolution,” PNAS 109, no. 45 (October 22, 2012): 18571-18576, doi:10.1073/pnas.1206390109.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Nicholas Mott, “What Makes Us Human? Cooking, Study Says,” National Geographic, October 26, 2012,
  5. Fonseca-Azevedo and Herculano-Houzel, “Metabolic Constraint.”
  6. Mott, “What Makes Us Human?”


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