Thursday, June 16, 2016

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: Are we creating a health risk for others?

Nowadays several restaurants offer traditional food cooked on a wood fire, and many of us in urban India are fans of such chulha restaurants. Some foods just do not taste the same when cooked on gas or electric stoves. Therefore some of the traditional dishes that were staple food of earlier generations have now become occasional treats for us, thanks to these specialty restaurants. But do you know that the workers of such restaurants are facing an occupational health risk?

Please consider the following facts:

1. In a household kitchen, the cook (mostly woman) is exposed to smoke in the kitchen for about 2 hrs each, twice a day. 
The finance minister in his budget address this year raised the concern of health impacts on women due to exposure to smoke in the kitchen. Many of us have supported Government of India's #giveitup campaign to provide LPG connections to poor households. 

2. In a chulha restaurant kitchen, the cooks and helpers may be men and/or women, and are exposed to smoke for close to 6-8 hrs per day. In Maharashtra state these eateries employ women for making 'bhakri' (millet roti) which involves constantly sitting next to the chulha for 6-8 hrs. This is over and above the exposure to smoke in their own home kitchens. 

Smoky kitchen of a traditional chulha restaurant

3. The household cooking in large parts of India now happens on agricultural and forestry residue, which is renewable biomass. As large scale cooking is involved in a commercial eatery, the fuel for the chulha restaurants is typically tree wood, and there is no way to trace its origin. This is in all probability un-sustainably harvested non-renewable biomass. Thus, it is contributing to deforestation too.

Am I then saying that it is wrong to patronise chulha restaurants? No, such a drastic measure is not required!

There exist smokeless chulhas that can give the same taste and flavour to the food as the traditional chulhas, but also provide a healthier work environment for the kitchen staff. In addition, these chulhas are energy efficient, resulting in reducing consumption of firewood. This is good for the environment, and will also financially benefit the restaurant owner.

One such solution offered by Samuchit Enviro Tech is ELFD Sampada Gasifier stove. This stove runs on wood or woody waste biomass (e.g., coconut shells, corn cobs, etc.) or biomass briquettes. The stove burns cleanly with no smoke and provides a high temperature blue flame because of a 'fan' that introduces adequate amount of oxygen into the fire. This 'fan' does not require any mechanical fan or blower or even electricity - it runs on water and physics!

This smokeless stove is well suited for chulha based restaurants. It saves on fuel as well as cooking time, in comparison with traditional stoves. In our trials we have experienced nearly 70-80% fuel saving and 30-40% time saving with respect to traditional stoves. Our clients also corroborate this data. Please check the video links, which show the stove in operation. 

One video shows 'Bhakri' being made on ELFD Sampada, and the other video shows the preparation of 'Akkha Masur', which is a lentil curry, a specialty of Sangli district in Western Maharashtra state of India.

We appeal to you to inform your favorite chulha restaurants of this cooking energy option. If you are yourself associated with any such restaurants in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka states, do invite us for a demonstration. All types of traditional dishes can be cooked on this stove. The capital investment is recovered in less than an year through saving on fuel cost. It will also increase the productivity of the workers, by creating a healthier work environment. We work with the kitchen staff to figure out the most appropriate procedure to achieve the best end result for the chosen recipe with the least possible fuel consumption and minimum pollution in the kitchen.  

Nobody should face occupational health risks for the sake of our enjoyment. Help us reach out to these kitchens, so that all of us can continue to enjoy our occasional 'fix' of traditional wood fire cooking with clear conscience!    

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech

    Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

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