Of all the animals on the planet, humans are the only ones to cook their food. This innovation changed the course of our evolution, led to cuisine as a distinct component of culture, and impacted the trajectory of the planet. How have changing technologies impacted our food, our culture, and our environment?
In this episode of Gastropod, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley interview Pulitzer Center grantee Michelle Nijhuis about her National Geographic project on the dangers of open-air cooking in Guatemala.
In the developing world, smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death of both women and children under five; women and girls spend up to 20 hours a week gathering firewood; children often suffer serious and even life-threatening burns from old or poorly constructed stoves.
Household stoves are also a major source of black carbon, a pollutant whose sunlight-absorbing properties are disrupting the Asian monsoon and contributing to the accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers. While safer, more efficient cookstoves would better the lives of billions and ease the effects of global climate disruption, this seemingly simple change is hindered by engineering, economics, and culinary tradition.