Jordan G. Teicher
As our Land Cruiser rolls across Tanzania’s Grumeti Reserves, a fully-grown male lion fixes its eye on us. It’s a lazy, disinterested look, one that could only come from a creature assured of his own power. Our guide informs us that he couldn’t care less about us, but I’m not so sure as we move within arm’s length. Just as we whip out our cameras, the lion casually collapses to the ground. In a moment, we see why: His overturned belly is swollen, and the half-eaten carcass of a buffalo — dinner — lies under a nearby tree. The lion lets out a gruff, satisfied sigh. He’s full.
Driving back through the plains, the sky darkens and lightning flashes in the distance. We arrive back at Singita’s Sasakwa Lodge — American hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones’ 1920s colonial-style oasis — and dinner is served in a gorgeous dining room with a chandelier, a grand fireplace, and décor marked by deep reds and golds. I place a white napkin and order: to start, potato and artichoke salad with lemon vinaigrette, followed by mushroom and hazelnut risotto, with Parmigiano-Reggiano crisps and rocket (known in America as arugula). The perfect complement arrives from the holdings of Singita’s sommelier François Rautenbach: a 2008 shiraz from South Africa’s Cederberg Cellars.It occurs to me that humans are the only animals that cook, that, indeed, cooking may be the very key to what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Perhaps the wine is getting to me, but sometime during dessert — a raspberry soufflé with vanilla ice cream — it occurs to me that humans are the only animals that cook, that, indeed, cooking may be the very key to what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. According to Popular Science, cooking allowed our ancestors to “spend less time gnawing on raw material and digesting it, providing time — and energy — to do other things instead, like socialize.” This socialization forced hominids to develop more dynamic brains, which eventually led to all the fantastic, thoroughly unnatural comforts of our modern age, like multi-course dinners in Wi-Fi-enabled five-star lodges.
In fact, all of this cooking business likely got started on the very continent where we’re now chowing down. A few years ago, scientists exploring Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa found remnants of campfires from a million years ago that showed evidence that they were used for cooking. It was, perhaps, “the world’s earliest barbeque,” as Discover put it. Dinner at Singita added further fuel to the argument that this is surely humanity’s single greatest invention.
Back at my room later that night, looking something like the gorged lion I saw earlier, I collapse on my bed. Humans may have elevated eating to an art, but feeling full is universal.