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Confessions of One Brown Girl

Monday, May 09, 2011
This morning, I filled up my tea cup with spring water and absentmindedly walked over to where my microwave used to be to heat it up:  1.5 minutes on high and then I would drop in a teaspoon of honey.  Boom.  Finished.  Sip, sip, sigh.  This is one morning ritual I can perform in my sleep (and I have too).  But my instant heater-upper isn't on the kitchen counter anymore.  Ohhhh yeah, I remembered:  I got rid of my microwave.  How inconvenient.

I really don't want to bore you with why I don't have a microwave anymore, although I will confess that it's mostly rebellion, partly fear, and minutely out of respect for master chefs that look down their noses at cooks who use them.  That being said, it got me thinking.  (Yep, there I go thinking again.)  There are many cultures in the world that continue to prepare their food without the use of a microwave oven or even a modern stove top for that matter. 

Some are from third world countries and cook using primitive open fire methods because they don't have access to modern conveniences; while some are like the Vanuatu and the Tortillera (pictured below) that simply choose to maintain cultural traditions.  In either case, my heartfelt hope is that there is no harm to the health and well being of the cooks (mainly women) who cook on open fires, much like I hope microwaves aren't harming our health either. 

Residents of Vanuatu making fire (2005) [Source]
Tortillera en Guatemala [Source]
Did you know that "each year, an estimated 1.9 million people die from the most basic of food safety problems -- the negative side effects of...traditional [open fire and primitive] cooking methods."?  Wow.  I guess it makes sense that breathing in smoke from coal on a daily basis would be hazardous to a person's health, right?  Not to mention the environmental hazards.  And let's not forget about getting burned.  Check out this report I found about this very serious issue (at least scan it).  You might be as surprised as I was.  There is even a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves!  Double wow.  #greatwork

When I sat down to write this post, I thought I was going to be writing about all of the different cultures (e.g., East Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Senegalese, the list goes on) that still cook over an open fire and how sticking with the basics isn't always a bad thing.  About how the development of pottery allowed for fireproof cooking and how Medieval kitchens used cauldrons.  About "Bamboo tubes sealed at the end with clay providing a usable [cooking] container in Asia, while the inhabitants of the Tehuacan Valley began carving large stone bowls that were permanently set into a hearth as early as 7000 BC."  About how before pottery, food was roasted and/or cooked using large leaves or the shells of turtles or large mollusks, which provided a source for waterproof cooking vessels.  [Source]  About how some cultures cook an entire meal in one pot.
About how heating my spring water in a tea kettle on a stove top takes the same 1.5 minutes that it took my dearly departed microwave to heat up my water, and how I can re-heat my food in a toaster oven.  Yep, that's what I sat down to type.

Instead, I'm here to confess that I'm glad I gave up my microwave and it isn't inconvenient after all.  I'm here to confess that I never even considered the safety and environmental risks of poorly constructed open fire cooking methods and its effects on millions of cooks around the world.  And as my gramma used to say (and yours too, I bet):  You learn something new every day.


Nicole Magnuson on: May 9, 2011 at 11:36 AM said...

Yeah, it's easy for us first-worlders to find cooking over an open fire "quaint," isn't it. I believe there are many non-profits working to design, produce and deliver stoves which are more efficient (reducing deforestation, requiring less time to find and carry fuel--which is usually done by brown women and girls, natch) and which are healthier for the users by burning cleaner, not to mention safer for not having open fires. I'll look for some links.

Edie on: May 9, 2011 at 12:09 PM said...

I do learn something new every day even when I am not trying to.....SOMETIMES when I am trying not to!

Sigh.....I read something like this and I wonder how much of an impact I could make by changing small things and how much of an impact it would be on me. In this hurry up world I try to use that as an excuse "I have 2 kids......I have to get to such and such practice....." And then you kindly point out that heating water in your tea kettle doesn't take any longer. Certainly makes one stop and think.

I am all for more efficient, cleaner burning stoves but wish there was a way to put them out at a reasonable rate.

I have a friend who was microwave conscientious to a fault and still got cancer! I am a believer in what will be will be. I honestly never even considered the dangers of cooking over an open fire! I respect those that do...whether it be out of necessity or due to beliefs.

Aqueelah on: September 10, 2011 at 5:00 PM said...

I guess being a child of the 50's I was always a little skeptical of microwaves in the first place. I have one but I seldom use it. I can truly understand your point. I came up in a world of black and white tv and no cell phones so I don't really miss it.


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