Homo Sapiens: Coqtivore?
In this entertaining presentation at the TED Global conference in London last July, Heribert Watzke, a food research scientist at Nestle, focuses on two notable if rarely connected factors in human health:
- Humans are the only species to cook food
- The human gut is infused with massive amounts of nerve cells; a veritable brain itself
Watzke combines one of the most ancient of human technologies, cooking, with the powers of the most current to describe what he calls a, “Tale of Two Brains.” He pointed out that the gut itself, which is connected to the lymbic, emotional system, contains the nerve tissues in quantity sufficient enough to compare to a cat’s brain. His examination of the “Gut-Brain Axis” shows how the brain can replace or inhibit healthy signals from the gut — “I am hungry, go eat.” “I have enough energy, stop.” — that then allows for the behaviors we call eating disorders like anorexia and far more often overeating.
He and other researchers are now studying the effects that cooking may have on foods that would essentially give that “brain in the gut” the capacity to ensure its healthy signals get to the brain.
Cooking, he notes, has been utterly essential to human survival and evolution: enabling continuous human migrations into any favorable environment and developing the capacities of the brain itself. The jaws and teeth, he proposes, evolved not for tearing flesh or gnawing roots especially, but for eating cooked food. So, he says: neither omnivore or herbivore, really, but coqtivore.
This new view of human eating behavior, as a function of creating essential energy, thus presents for Watzke a “coqtivore’s opportunity” to look at the brain-digestion connection in new ways that could impact the initiation of obesity and other digestive-related conditions.