by Leslie Morgan Steiner
I am a terrible cook.
No kidding – 99% of the food I make, even when I follow a recipe scrupulously, is not edible.
I once made a brisket that was as tough as my computer keyboard.
Coq au vin that was all vin.
Noodle casserole that after four hours of shopping, chopping and baking and one bite went straight into the trash can.
Fortunately, I can make chocolate chip cookies, which redeems me in my kids’ eyes.
However, a recent article in Harvard Magazine  tells me cookies would never have been enough to attract or keep a man. There’s a new book out called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human  that explains how transformational fire was to homo sapiens.
In simple terms, here’s the argument: Raw food does not have enough calories  to sustain our bodies and our brains over time. Cooked food is easier to digest and increases the number of nutrients and fats available through the human digestive system. Cooked food may in fact explain why humans’ brains developed to be larger and more complex than other mammals who couldn’t master putting raw meat over fire.
According to the author -- Harvard professor of biological anthropology Richard Wrangham –as paraphrased in Harvard Magazine:
“Cooking shapes social relations between human males and females, from the sexual division of labor to the mating system itself, which is based not on sex but food… These bonds were so critical for the successful feeding of both sexes that they generated a psychology in our ancestors that shaped female-male relationship and continues to affect us today.”
In short: During caveman times, women who were the best cooks attracted the best mates. Or more colloquially today, the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Fortunately I’ve attracted my share of mates despite my culinary deficits. We live in a world of takeout menus and microwave ovens, so I’ve been able to mask my weaknesses. But I’ve always felt kind of ashamed about being a bad cook. Less womanly, if you will. Being a bad cook is makes me feel like I have breasts the size of mosquito bites. I understand why men might be legitimately attracted to women who can really cook.
But I was also relieved to hear from Richard Wrangham that cooking well has a big downside. Turns out that a good cook may make her mate happy. But it doesn’t make HER happy.
“[Cooking] left cooks vulnerable to exploitation…In the bush, the sight or smell of smoke reveals a cook’s location at a long distance, allowing hungry individuals who have no food to easily locate cooks in action. Because females were smaller and physically weaker, [cooks] were vulnerable to bullying by domineering males who wanted food. Each female therefore obtained protection from other males’ by forming a special friendship with her own particular mate. Cooking brought many benefits to humans, but it trapped women into a newly subservient role enforced by male-dominant culture.”
This explains so much.
Why I feel terrible about being a terrible cook.
Why being a terrible cook is wonderfully liberating.
Here’s the modern day upside of lousy culinary skills: no man has ever once valued me for my cooking. I’ve only attracted men who liked me for myself, not my coq au vin.