Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dangers of the Indian Kitchen

After a bout of serious coughing and losing my voice courtesy of cooking some maggi noodles with stir fried veggies on top, I thought it was high time I posted something about how dangerous Indian kitchens can be. I had read about some of the dangers a while back and had adjusted my cooking routine to living here but it's not enough. This blog posts is one of the rare few where I will be posting links to sources as I hope that some of you will get help if you, or your mother/sister/auntie, have a kitchen like this.

Our kitchen is approximately 4x6 feet and standing room is probably only 2x4 feet. The rest is counter space. There is a 3x3 window in the very small wall and a full sized door. There is also an exhaust fan. So it would seem there should be plenty of ventilation. We do have cabinets that stick out about 2 feet but are above head level. So there really isn't much space in this kitchen for humans. We have a 2 burner gas stove (the equivalent of a camping stove in the US) and a toaster oven in there. The rest of the counter space is used for cutting veggies and rolling rotis or storing kitchen stuff.

Regardless of the ventilation in there and keeping an extra fan to pull heat and smoke out of the kitchen it still is the most horrible kitchen to cook in I've ever seen. The heat doesn't leave the kitchen and the temperatures soar while you're in there and heaven help you if you need both burners on the stove. The sweat just rolls off of you the whole time you're in there and wiping it off does no good because by the time you get your forehead wiped, more has ran down your face and it's wet again.

Last night what I experienced was smoke inhalation. This is especially dangerous because smoke dries out the inside of your body and essentially cooks your lungs. The smoke inhalation is even worse for women in India who have to cook over open fires or in dung ovens as these could also expose them to toxic chemicals. over 1.5 million people are killed each year by people who cook on these kinds of stoves. (References provided at the end of this blog.) That's a stunningly high number.

Unfortunately, according to research, even ventilation does not reduce the risks of respiratory illnesses caused by natural gas burning in the home. This should be heeded even by western home that use gas cooking stoves as they have set themselves up for the same diseases. Using gas to cook 7 or more times a week doubles your chances of developing asthma and the instance of emergency room trips for asthma sufferers. But, the health hazards are not limited to just the lungs.

When you cook over a gas stove you are inhaling radioactive chemicals among many other toxic chemicals. Hundreds of them, and they stick to your food so even if someone else cooks for you (like the maids common in India) you are still consuming these chemicals. And they are released in the air so you're still breathing them as well. Western countries using gas clothes dryers have the chemicals stuck to their clothes, then absorbed by their skin.

To further complicate the situation, gas stoves increase the instance of mold, dust mites, viruses, bacteria and other fungus growing in the home. These are deposited around the house and then breathed in, picked up on hands and such, then they enter the body and make/keep you sick. It would seem there is no escaping the dangers of using gas appliances in the home. Sadly, these are a staple in many Indian homes as electricity is expensive and electrical appliances are not readily available.

Now I'm starting to understand why I can't seem to get well living here. There are just too many factors against me. But I'm on a mission to figure out exactly what is keeping me down, what is robbing me of my right to live a peaceful life with my family. Hopefully this information helps someone else avoid the complications I have had to go through.

Shell Foundation: Programmes in India
"Elements" Online Environmental Magazine; Natural Gas: Avoidable Health Hazard by David Wimberly
WebMD: Frying Meat on Gas Stoves Poses Greater Risks


  1. :) at times i feel...oh well i lived in this country and she can not survive :) but then i realize where you come from has clean air, less complications and much more comfort....

    you have some determination i must say....*respect*

    in today's world an indian city girl may give up if she had to manage even half the things you mention at times....

  2. Historias de la IndiaDecember 26, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    Great post as usual...its always a pleasure to read them!