Cooking up a storm

Woman cooking on a clay stove in Nepal. Credit: Ah Zut, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
Woman cooking on a clay stove in Nepal. Credit: Ah Zut, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced this past week the launch of a new international alliance to supply improved cooking stoves to 100 million poor households by 2020. An article in the Economist describes how many programs to promote cleaner stoves throughout the world have failed: “Too much emphasis has gone on technology and talking to people at the top, too little to consulting the women who actually do the cooking.”

That statement, all told, is probably true. Nonetheless, a quick search in Google Scholar and my university library’s electronic databases reveals many relevant studies including some by cultural/social anthropologists. They address and document both the health risks especially for women and children of traditional cookstoves and perceptions of improved cookstoves.

The most fine-grained anthropology study that I have found is Patrice Engle and co-authors with some Maya people of Guatemala. She and her co-authors used observation and recall methods to learn about time spent over cooking fires. The results indicate that young mothers and young children (who are with the mother while she is cooking) spend the most time in the kitchen and are most at risk for smoke-related health problems. Women with co-resident husbands spend more time in the kitchen than women without husbands or whose husbands are away.

In terms of how to provide improved cookstoves, the best publication I know is by Rob Bailis and co-authors. They assess subsidized versus market-based stove dissemination and compare several contexts in which clean cooking technologies were promoted.

Cultural anthropologists and others who take a grounded approach to learning about important issues: get cooking on cooking! This topic connects to social and gender disparities, environmental pollution and sustainability, and the future of all of us.

Related Reading:
Dherani, Mukesh et al. Indoor Air Pollution from Unprocessed Solid Fuel Use and Pneumonia Risk in Children Aged under Five Years: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 86(5):390-398, 2008.

Masera, Omar et al. Impact of Patsari Improved Cookstoves on Indoor Air Quality in Michiacán, Mexico. Energy for Sustainable Development 11(2):45-56, 2007.

Simon, Gregory. Mobilizing Cookstoves for Development: A Dual Adoption Framework Analysis of Collaborative Technology Innovations in Western India. Environment and Planning A42(8):2011-2030, 2010.

Troncoso, Karin et al. Social Perceptions about a Technological Innovation for Fuelwood Cooking: A Case Study in Rural Mexico. Energy Policy 35(5):2799-2810, 2007.

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