Santa Claus, the infinite giver. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

It’s arguable that cooking made us human. Cooked food gave us a huge amount of calories, which made us healthy and we spread our genes and our brains grew and grew. But most important, cooking our own food forced us to work together, to cooperate. Because we learned to cooperate, we grew in groups, and these groups spread across the world and thrived, while others species (Neanderthals, for example) did not.

This is important enough to reiterate: in order to make use of the extraordinary benefits that cooked food gave us, the stuff that made us human, we had to work together. Food taught us how to cooperate.

But cooperate is a boring word, a weak word with oblique connotations of subservience, compromise, giving in—everything contrary to the rebellious spirit that made this country. So I propose the word concert. I propose that we act in concert. When we ACT TOGETHER, we move forward. When we behave inhumanly, when we act against each other (in war, in our House of Representatives) we stand still, stagnate, and die.

When we cooperate, good things happen. Bank Square Books in Connecticut is saved because neighbors hurry to haul heavy boxes of books to higher levels of the store as Hurricane Sandy flooded its lower levels (“People would come to our door and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’” the bookstore owner said.). Ancient rock stars band together, have a concert, to raise money ($50 million!) for the ravaged New York–New Jersey area, and schools across the country send gifts and messages of hope and solidarity to the devastated parents and citizens of Newtown, Connecticut. (Here’s the United Way link to help; visit the Angels of Sandy Hook Facebook page.)

We are a cooking animal, and because of this we are a moral animal.

Christmastime is a time for all people to come together, to act in concert, to care for one another, to care for strangers as they care for their own.

My dad was the spirit of Christmas Present. Merry Christmas, Dad! I love you. As Charles Dickens wrote, in the voice of Christmas Present, “Christmas doesn’t come but once a year, Christmas comes everyday.” What I take from that is that every day we need to act in concert.

May the message of this season be loud and clear for all to hear, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists: Every day, come together.

Thank you, dear readers, and best wishes for a bountiful holiday for you and your family and friends and a fruitful new year.

Peace on earth and good will to all.



© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


18 Wonderful responses to “Christmastime Wishes: One Word”

  • Nancy

    This brings to mind something Frank Zappa (I think) said: “There is no progress without deviation.” And deviating from the status quo—whether by starting a revolution in the streets or daring to cook from scratch in an instant, over-processed, pre-packaged world—is a lot less intimidating when you know you have partners in crime, fellow collaborators, conspirators even. And someone thoughtful & articulate behind the bullhorn. (That’d be you.)

    Thanks for all you do. Important stuff, that. And all the best for 2013.

  • Edwin

    Perfect message Michael, thank you so much for everything you do. Happy Holidays to you, your family, friends and to all the readers who post here, all the best for 2013. Christmas time reminds me of what the great OZ said:

    ” A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others”. PEACE! -Ed

  • NancyRing

    Merry Christmas to you, your family and your readers. You and my fellow readers all enrich my life with your opinions and well chosen words!

  • Jeff

    Michael, ditto all the above, and to all the prosperity of family and friends to relish and in the New Year!

  • Victoria

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thanks for everything (especially the spoon that allows me to make PERFECT poached eggs).

  • Janice

    As usual, your words evoke truth and beauty. May the coming year be filled with both. Many thanks for inspiring me all year, in big and small ways.

  • Martin

    When I was a kid it was using tools that “made us human.” Then folks watched crows and monkeys. Now it’s cooking. Uh, wrong.

    It’s self-concousness and sophisticated language. Can’t get around it.

    • ruhlman

      Animals obviously use tools. They also express language skills, from bees on up. But they are also self-conscious, and more, have shown to have “theory of mind,” a fancy term for knowing what another animal might be thinking and how it might act given those thoughts. That’s more than an expression of self-consciousness. It used to be thought humans were the only species to have non-reproductive sex, but the bonobos figured that one out too.

      However, no other animal cooks food.

      • Franklin

        Mr. Ruhlman, I’m all for celebrating cooking, but I have to agree that it’s hardly what “makes us human.” I’m not sure what that is, but I’d put language and self-awareness way above cooking. And by the way, animals do not “express language skills” — they communicate. Human language is a unique discrete combinatorial system (“grammar,” if you like) that’s completely unlike any non-human communication system. And if you’re going to bring up ToM (Theory of Mind) you should read a bit more about it. It’s not as if a species either has ToM or doesn’t have it. ToM is expressed in levels. While it’s true that chimps have shown very low levels of ToM (similar to human toddlers), no other creatures display it to anything approaching the levels adult humans do. Do some more research.

    • ruhlman

      oh, and if any one knows animals that cook food, please speak up here!

      I certainly know that as soon as I see pigs grilling their corn, we’re in trouble.

  • Carolyn Z

    Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

    Continue to come here and discuss the important issues of the day relating to food! You don’t have to post to enjoy.


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