How Cooking Food and Gathering for Feasts Made Us Human

Maddie Burakoff wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you’re cooking a meal for Thanksgiving or just showing up to feast, you’re part of a long human history — one that’s older than our own species.

Some scientists estimate our early human cousins may have been using fire to cook their food almost 2 million years ago, long before Homo sapiens showed up.

And a recent study found what could be the earliest known evidence of this rudimentary cooking: the leftovers of a roasted carp dinner from 780,000 years ago.

Cooking food marked more than just a lifestyle change for our ancestors. It helped fuel our evolution, give us bigger brains — and later down the line, would become the centerpiece of the feasting rituals that brought communities together.

“The story of human evolution has appeared to be the story of what we eat,” said Matt Sponheimer, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has studied the diets of early human ancestors.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is based on material from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel — a watery site on the shores of an ancient lake.

Artifacts from the area suggest it was home to a community of Homo erectus, an extinct species of early humans that walked upright, explained lead author Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University.

Over years of “digging in mud” at the site, researchers examined a curious catch of fish remains, especially teeth, said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who led the excavations.

Many were from a couple of species of big carp, and they were clustered around certain spots at the site — places where researchers also found signs of fire. Testing revealed the teeth had been exposed to temperatures that were hot, but not super-hot. This suggests the fish were cooked low and slow, rather than tossed right onto a fire, Zohar explained.

With all of this evidence together, the authors concluded that these human cousins had harnessed fire for cooking more than three quarters of a million years ago. That’s much earlier than the next oldest evidence for cooking, which showed Stone Age humans ate charred roots in South Africa.

The researchers — like many of their colleagues — believe cooking started long before this, though physical evidence has been hard to come by.

“I am sure that in the near future an earlier case will be reported,” study author Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University said in an email.

That’s in part because harnessing fire for food was a key step for human evolution.

Cooking food makes it easier for the body to digest and get nutrients, explained David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University who was not involved with the study. So, when early humans figured out how to cook, they got access to more energy, which they could use to fuel bigger brains.

Based on how human ancestors’ brains and bodies developed, scientists estimate that cooking skills would have had to emerge nearly 2 million years ago.

“If we’re out there eating raw items, it is very difficult to make it as a large-bodied primate,” Braun said.

Those first cooked meals were a far cry from today’s turkey dinners. And in the many, many years in between, humans started not just eating for fuel, but for community.

In a 2010 study, researchers described the earliest evidence of a feast — a specially prepared meal that brought people together for an occasion 12,000 years ago in a cave in Israel.

The cave, which served as a burial site, included the remains of one special woman who seemed to be a shaman for her community, said Natalie Munro, a University of Connecticut anthropologist who led the study.

It seems her people held a feast to honor her death. Munro and her team found large numbers of animal remains at the site — including enough tortoises and wild cattle to create a hearty spread.

This “first feast” came from another important transition point in human history, right as hunter-gatherers were starting to settle into more permanent living situations, Munro said. Gathering for special meals may have been a way to build community and smooth tensions now that people were more or less stuck with each other, she said.

And while the typical feast may no longer involve munching on tortoise meat in burial caves, Munro said she still sees a lot of the same roles — exchanging information, making connections, vying for status — happening at our modern gatherings.

“This is something that’s just quintessentially human,” Munro said. “And to see the first evidence of it is exciting.”

Source: AP

 

 

 

 

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Gathering Again? Tips for a Safe and Healthy Thanksgiving

Jonel Aleccia wrote . . . . . . . . .

For families who settled for smaller gatherings and remote blessings during the height of the pandemic, this Thanksgiving looks like the return of the big bash.

More folks are getting together this year, with the American Automobile Association predicting holiday travel will be nearly back to prepandemic levels.

If that’s the case at your house, it may have been a while since you faced a frozen turkey or remembered which cousins shouldn’t sit together.

To help you brush up on the holiday basics, here are some tips to keep everyone safe, healthy and sane:

FIRST, THE TURKEY

The big bird is the center of most Thanksgiving meals, but it’s important to handle raw poultry properly to avoid spreading bacteria that can send your guests home with an unwanted side of food poisoning. Thaw safely. A frozen turkey needs about 24 hours to thaw for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight, according to the Agriculture Department. In a pinch, it can be thawed in a cold water bath or even a microwave, but it must be cooked immediately if you use those methods. And don’t wash the turkey. It’s a bad idea to rinse it in the sink, a practice that can spread potentially dangerous germs like salmonella to nearby areas, said Jennifer Quinlan, a Drexel University nutrition sciences professor who has studied consumers’ turkey-handling habits. Instead, pat the turkey dry with paper towels and plop it in the roasting pan.

COOK THOROUGHLY, REFRIGERATE PROMPTLY

The best way to make sure your turkey is fully cooked, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, is to use a meat thermometer, said Lisa Shelley, who researches food safety at North Carolina State University. Don’t rely on golden-brown skin or the color of the turkey juices. Once the turkey is served, be sure to refrigerate it and all the other leftovers — mashed potatoes, gravy, yams — within two hours. “Really, set a timer when you put everything out,” suggested Quinlan. “You’ll be surprised at how fast two hours goes.”

And don’t skimp on the cleanup. Wash your hands before preparing food and after touching raw poultry. But make sure to consider the counters, the cutting boards and any tools that may be contaminated, too, said Shelley. Clean with soap and water, then sanitize with chlorine bleach. “It’s a two-step process,” she said.

DANGER ZONES

Certain holidays are known for specific injuries and Thanksgiving’s no exception, said Dr. Christopher Kang, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Carve carefully. Slicing a turkey is a lot harder than it looks, as Turkey Day injuries attest. “Always, with any cutting and carving, we see a lot of hand injuries and finger injuries,” said Kang, an ER doctor in Tacoma, Washington. Make sure the carving knife is sharp and never slice toward yourself, always away. Don’t put your hand under the blade to catch a slice of meat.

Beware, turkey fryer fires. Deep-fried turkey may sound delectable, but it’s a dangerous dish for home cooks to prepare. The fryers can tip over and spill — and the combination of a frozen or not-quite-thawed turkey and hot oil can create an explosion. Even when that doesn’t happen, Kang said he’s seen plenty of painful scalding injuries caused by hot oil.

AVOID THE “TRIPLE-DEMIC”

Thanksgiving gatherings also kick off a spike in other ER visits as generations gather and swap germs. This year, the danger posed by COVID-19 and other viruses, including an early flu season and RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is a continuing worry, Kang said. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to some infections; older people are more susceptible to others. “What age group is not at risk?” Kang said. To reduce the chances of infection and serious illness, make sure everyone eligible is up-to-date on vaccinations. Ask folks who have any symptoms of illness — even “allergies” or “just a cold” — to stay home. Consider asking guests to take a rapid COVID-19 test before they show up. Make sure your home is well-ventilated: Open windows, keep a portable air purifier running. To protect the most vulnerable guests, consider wearing masks indoors.

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Hosting — or joining — a Thanksgiving holiday event after nearly three years of a tumultuous pandemic may be a challenge. It’s important to have realistic expectations — and to plan ahead to avoid familiar family pitfalls, according to the American Psychological Association. Take time for yourself. Despite the pressure of the holidays, don’t forgo your healthy routine. If you usually exercise, make time for a long walk, APA experts say: “Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy.” Set boundaries in advance. If you’re worried about conflicts or heated discussions at your holiday table, the APA suggests making sure every knows Thanksgiving is a time to focus on “gratitude, appreciation and all you have, including each other.”

Source: AP

 

 

 

 

Yes, It’s a Scam: Simple Tips to Help You Spot Online Fraud

Heather Kelly wrote . . . . . . . . .

Nobody is immune to scams. Criminals are constantly changing them to fit the latest headlines, target our insecurities and slip through even the most well-honed BS detectors.

That means everyone, young and old, can benefit from a refresher on how to spot a text, phone or online scam and what to do next. Because the scams themselves change so fast, it’s also important to keep up on what the latest techniques and topics are so you aren’t caught off guard by a fake-romance text while you are on high alert for robocalls.

Have ‘the talk’ with family members

Do not assume people in your life know how to recognize or respond to scams. Even teenagers, whom we often assume know the most about the internet, are vulnerable. Make sure your family members know they can come to you anytime to gut-check a suspicious direct message or phone call. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment associated with “falling” for a scam, but this type of deceit is like any other crime and is not the fault of the victim.

Change these settings to minimize scam risks

Make it significantly harder for cybercriminals to target you or family members by changing basic settings. Not everyone will need or want all of these protections.

Make social media private: Set your Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles to private. If you need a public facing profile, remove information such as your location information and contact information.

Facebook: Limit who can see your friend list or find your profile. A common scam involves creating a fake profile of a real person you know, then messaging you to ask for money. In Facebook, go to Settings & Privacy → Followers and Public Content → select “Who can see the people, pages and lists you follow?” Select Friends or Only Me.

Messenger: Tap your profile photo and select Privacy → Message Delivery. Under Other People, click on Others on Facebook and select Don’t Receive Request. Do the same for Others on Instagram. Under the Potential Connections section, set the categories to Don’t Receive Requests or Message Requests to limit how many tentative connections are able to message you directly.

WhatsApp: Go to Settings → Account → Privacy and limit who can add you to groups and who can see information like your status and personal information.

Phone contacts: Make sure known contacts are added to the phone’s address books so it’s easier to ignore unknown numbers. Next, send unknown callers to voice mail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. On an iPhone, go to Settings → Phone → Silence Unknown Callers. This will send anyone you’ve never communicated with straight to voice mail. On an Android device, open the Phone app, locate the menu button (it looks like three dots), tap that, then Settings. Most phones will have options for blocking numbers and caller ID/spam protection in there, although they often go by different names. (If you’re using voice mail to screen calls, make sure the outgoing message is set up and that your inbox isn’t full.)

Maximize your privacy: Most devices and apps have privacy settings you should turn on.

Improve your security: To make sure all of your accounts are as secure as possible.

Know the latest scams

Scammers love to use current events, whether it’s the pandemic or aid for Ukraine. For example, within 24 hours of President Biden’s announcing a program to forgive some student loans, the Federal Trade Commission released a warning about student loan scams.

Knowing what new scams are trending also will help you quickly spot shady activity. You can get updates about the latest scams at sites including Fraud.org. The FTC does a great job of releasing timely consumer alerts, and the AARP’s fraud site is also flush with resources.

Assume that people or companies aren’t who they say they are

It’s easy to imitate a real person or organization. Make it your first instinct to ask yourself: Are they who they claim to be? If you have any doubt, go to the next step.

Verify everything using a different channel

To confirm a person or a company is what it claims to be, you need to look for a different contact method. Don’t trust any contact information included in the original message; instead, find the best way to reach the company entirely on your own, such as looking up and using an official customer service number on a company’s website. If you’re unsure, ask a friend or family member. If you don’t have someone you can call, AARP has a number anyone can call to ask about a possible scam: 877-908-3360.

“Verify, validate, check. If you got a Facebook message, text the person. Got a phone call? Call the bank,” says Caroline Wong, the chief strategy officer at the cybersecurity company Cobalt. “Figure out a different channel from whatever channel you go the message in.”

>h3>Don’t reply, don’t click links, don’t answer the call

Do not engage with possible scams, even if you’re curious. That includes not clicking links from contacts you don’t know. Got a text claiming to be from UPS about a package? Go to the official UPS site instead.

Research the sender’s phone number, email or URLs

Look for any details that will tell you a message is fake, and Google it if you’re unsure. This includes an email address that doesn’t have the right domain (like a message claiming to be from Apple but is not from Apple.com), a link that goes someplace it shouldn’t or a phone number you’ve never seen. On social media or messaging apps, click through to profiles to see whether they were recently created and appear real.

Worried about being rude? Have a script

If you don’t feel comfortable simply hanging up on a stranger or consider doing so to be rude, have a refusal script ready to go, says Amy Nofziger, AARP’s director of fraud victim support. It can be as simple as, “I don’t do business over the phone, thanks for calling.”

Memorize signs that something is a scam

You didn’t initiate the conversation: If a text, direct message, email or call comes out of the blue, it’s far more likely to be a scam.

You won something: Sorry, you did not actually win anything. Skip messages that say you’ve won money or prizes or are getting a refund.

You are panicked: Criminals want to make you think there’s an emergency. If they can get you to act without slowing down and thinking critically, there’s a better chance they’ll succeed. Look for signs in yourself such as a fast heartbeat or sweaty palms.

“Scammers want to create a sense of urgency. They want to get you to act, to use that animal fight-or-flight part of your brain,” says John Breyault, a vice president at the advocacy group the National Consumers League and the director of Fraud.org.

It involves fast payment methods: “Criminals like their money fast, quick and untraceable,” said AARP’s Nofziger. Peer-to-peer payment apps are a current favorite, because they allow money to be transferred instantly without leaving much of a trail, says Nofziger.

If a stranger asks you to pay them (or offers to pay you) in the following ways, it’s likely to be a scam: Peer-to-peer apps such as Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, wire transfer, prepaid gift cards, cryptocurrency or cash. Don’t share your credit card number, either, unless you’ve confirmed through a second form of contact that the matter is legitimate.

There are payment complications: If someone says you owe money, or claims they’re having issue with a transaction to or from you, investigate. In one popular Facebook Marketplace scam, criminals will offer to pay over an app like Zelle, say there’s a problem, then ask for your email address so they can send a fake email and get your info.

They want information: Not all scammers want money; some are trying to get your address, log-ins and passwords, or your Social Security number.

“At the end of the day, scammers are after money or information they can turn into money,” Breyault says.

Something doesn’t feel right: Your gut is your best tool for avoiding scams. If something feels off, ask a family member, call the AARP hotline, or find another form of contact on your own and reach out to confirm whether the overture is legitimate.

Source : Washington Post

CDC Eases COVID Social Distancing Guidance in the U.S.

Robin Foster wrote . . . . . . . . .

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday it has loosened its COVID-19 social distancing recommendations as the American public learns to live with the virus in its midst.

“We’re in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools — like vaccination, boosters, and treatments — to protect ourselves, and our communities, from severe illness from COVID-19,” Greta Massetti, author of a report on the new guidance, said in a CDC news release.

“We also have a better understanding of how to protect people from being exposed to the virus, like wearing high-quality masks, testing, and improved ventilation. This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over, but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” Massetti added.

“As transmission of SARS-CoV-2 continues, the current focus on reducing medically significant illness, death, and health care system strain are appropriate and achievable aims that are supported by the broad availability of the current suite of effective public health tools,” Massetti’s team wrote in its new guidance.

Changes to the guidance include de-emphasizing the 6 feet of social distancing that the CDC has advised since early in the pandemic. Instead, the agency advises Americans on what settings are riskier based on crowds, poor ventilation and personal risks such as health issues and age. An emphasis will also be put on building ventilation to stop the spread of many respiratory illnesses, the agency said.

Although the CDC still asks people who are sick with COVID-19 to isolate, the guidance would ease recommendations for anyone who is simply exposed to an ill person. Instead of being asked to stay home for at least five days, those individuals should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested on day 5, the CDC said. However, the guidance also suggests that exposed persons take extra precautions around people at high risk for severe disease for at least 10 days.

The agency did fine-tune its advice for those who fall ill with COVID: If you have moderate illness (shortness of breath or had difficulty breathing), severe illness (hospitalization), or a weakened immune system, you need to isolate through day 10, instead of day 5.

If you are unsure if your symptoms are moderate or severe, or if you have a weakened immune system, talk to a health care provider for further guidance, the agency said.

If you have ended isolation, and your COVID-19 symptoms worsen or you test positive again, you should restart your isolation at day 0. Talk to a health care provider if you have questions about your symptoms or when to end isolation, the agency advised.

The reasons for the changes include a high level of underlying immunity, with 95% of Americans having had the virus or having been vaccinated against it, as well as changes in public opinion about the precautions.

Experts agreed the new guidance appears to be a reality check.

The relaxed guidelines are “a concession to realism, to the way that a lot of people are handling this,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told the Washington Post. While he noted that the new guidelines are “entirely reasonable, my major concern is whether they will continue to be entirely reasonable given the unpredictable dynamics of the virus.”

“I think the question is, is the CDC finally saying, ‘Look, we’ve done what we can do to contain the most acute phases of this pandemic,'” Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Post. “So are they just finally saying that it is time for us to sort of take a step back and think about putting this back to the individual person?”

Regardless, the CDC’s recommendations are not mandates. Local government, states and school districts can still set their own guidelines.

About 42% of the U.S. population currently lives in areas with a high level of virus in the community, according to the CDC.

The new guidance was published in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Source: HealthDay

 

 

 

 

Chart: Egg Prices Sky-High As Breakfast Inflation Pressures American Households

Source: Bloomberg and AFP