All human cultures process food extensively by cooking and non-thermal means, a feature that makes us unique among species. Why is food processing so universal? When did it begin? And why might it threaten our health today? In this lecture, Rachel Carmody presents evidence from diverse fields, showing that food processing increases the calories we extract from the diet, leading to competitive advantages in the past and challenges for our present and future.
Rachel Carmody received a PhD in Human Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Microbiology & Immunology at UCSF and Visiting Fellow in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard. Her research investigates the biological, behavioral, and environmental determinants of dietary energy gain, with special interests in the energetic consequences of food processing and the contributions of the gut microbiome to energy metabolism. Her studies have shown that adoption of cooking by human ancestors would have transformed the energy landscape, helping to support the emergence of energetically costly traits like larger body and brain size despite reductions in tooth and gut size. Along the way, her work has revealed critical gaps in the methods used for reporting calories on food labels, a problem that threatens effective weight management today. In 2016, she will join the faculty of the Harvard Department of Human Evolutionary Biology.