Hot Topic: Dr. Cordain and Dr. Turchin Debate Fire’s Impact on Our Ancestors’ Diet

Fire | The Paleo Diet
In August of 2014, Dr. Peter Turchin of Cliodynamica published a blog post titled “Paleo Diet and Fire”. In it, he discusses Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Makes Us Human. The article explores Richard Wrangham’s theory that the significant jump in the cranial capacity of Homo erectus and Homo sapiens was fueled by fire; specifically, the ability to cook underground roots and tubers.

A student of Dr. Cordain’s read the post and brought it to Dr. Cordain’s attention. Dr. Cordain disagreed with Wrangham’s hypothesis and reached out to Dr. Turchin to discuss the theory. Dr. Cordain argued that the ability to control fire came quite late in our evolutionary history, thus roots and tubers that need to be cooked for consumption should not be part of the Paleo Diet. Following the discussion, Dr. Turchin published a follow-up article titled “When Did Human Beings Start Using Fire? Wrangham versus Cordain”.

In the new article, Dr. Turchin countered that “any alternative to the Wrangham hypothesis would have to come up with an explanation of where the calories came from and, even more importantly, how early humans could afford to shrink their guts.”

After Dr. Turchin published the article, he invited Dr. Cordain to comment. Dr. Cordain crafted a thorough response, which is featured as a guest post on Dr. Turchin’s blog. Read Dr. Cordain’s full response here »

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“4” Comments

  1. Actually it seems that nature provides the right balance between predators and preys until we manage to disrupt every mechanism. Modern hunter gatheters live in confined backup lands already polluted by our modern environment.

    • Alessio,

      You are correct. The current environmental imbalance humanity faces is likely linked to the agricultural revolution and the coinciding exponential population growth. Human culture was much less concerned with excessive consumption and resource extraction prior to the development of agriculture. Modern hunter-gatherers and other indigenous peoples struggle to mitigate the effects of increasing pressures from environmental degradation, land fragmentation, and globalization.

  2. It’s not all about calories…it’s about nutrients, key nutrients that lack in tubers and also in vegetables and fruit, they were backup food when meat was not available. The calories stuff drives me nuts because it’s only one part of the issue. We are not calorimeters that burn all the stuff, we are complex beings, different nutrients drive different methabolic pathways. And our stomach and gut are designed for a certain mass of food at time, you can’t eat tons of tubers and veggies and you can’t expect to absorb much from them since the few nutrients are binded to antinutrients

    • Great insight Alessio! We have always emphasized that Paleo followers should be more concerned with the quality of their food instead of quantity. Ensuring a diverse intake of nutrients is much more important than focusing on calories. To ensure maximum nutrient uptake, one should make sure to consume nutrient dense “Paleo” plant foods along with Paleo-approved fat and protein sources.

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