Quest for Fire

Patrick and his King Salmon that he caught, cleaned and cooked

“Quest for Fire” is a 1981 film that depicts Paleolithic Europe, 80,000 years ago, its plot surrounds the struggle for control of fire by early humans. “Quest for Fire” is a film that I’m sure anthropologists love to hate and since the movie is based upon a 1911 novel, you can be sure that it is totally up on the latest research. In the movie’s sex scenes, humanity’s evolution is encapsulated by the transition from one sexual position to another. I’m sure Ron Perlman is proud to have this film on his IMDb resume. 😉

I raise this topic because I’ve recently read L.V. Anderson’s Slate article, Who Mastered Fire? This article dubs mastery of fire as both the first and greatest intellectual property claim known to mankind. It goes on to claim that mastery of fire alone is what defines us as human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The crux of this article is that scientists can’t agree on whether people mastered fire 1.8 million years ago or only 12,000 years ago. The question left unresolved is whether humans proved their humanity almost two million years ago or only a couple of thousand years before the dawn of civilization.

This article distinguishes between opportunistic use of fire and the ability to spontaneously create fire. The movie “Quest for Fire” also made this distinction. The protagonist tribe is only capable of harvesting natural fire, like from lighting strikes, because they don’t know how to make it themselves. They eventually meet a more advanced tribe who have mastered this technology and learn from them.

Mastery of fire provided mankind several benefits. It provided both a source of warmth and protection from predators, but most importantly is allowed for cooking. Cooking our food made the food taste better, more nutritious and more digestible. Scientists say that the invention of cooking has led to the development of our enlarged brains. The calories once spent digesting raw food could with cooking, be redirected to feed our brains.

I think that this Paleolithic pedigree manifests itself in modern life with the foodies movement. Once people learn how to perform a task, then it soon becomes a competition to see who can do it better. This is what modern cooking is all about. You see this on TV in show after show. I also see it at work among some of my co-workers.

I work with a lot of people who enjoy food preparation. They like to cook, but more than that they revel in the entire process of food creation. Whether it is growing, hunting, brewing or what have you they collectively run the gambit. I’m just pleased that they occasionally bring some of the fruits of their labors into the office to share. Burp!

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