Kitchen Life

With Raihana Ferdous and Manosh Paul (University of Glasgow); Meghna Gupta (freelance documentary filmmaker); Deepa Pullanikkatil, (Abundance Worldwide) and Mazharul Islam (University of Science and Technology) / December 2020 – present.

How does sustainability intersect with clean energy, education, culture and health? How are our ways of knowing about sustainability situated, and where? How might we understand all of this from the central unit of kitchen life?

A typical kitchen in rural Bangladesh. Location- Sandwip Island (credit: Raihana Ferdous)

‘Kitchen Life: Towards Clean Cooking Services in Bangladesh and Malawi’ is an interdisciplinary pilot project funded by the Scottish Funding Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund. The work is designed to explore the cultural aspects of everyday cooking practices which underpin the interrelated topics of sustainable cooking, clean energy, education, culture and health. Ensuring access to sustainable and clean cooking is a global concern. According to the 2019 International Energy Agency report, one-third of the world’s population (around 2.6 billion people) do not have access to clean cooking facilities. Daily exposure to toxic smoke from traditional cooking practices is one of the world’s major yet least understood killers, causing 2.5 million premature deaths annually. Millions more fall sick, and thousands of people suffer burns and injuries every year due to insufficient access to clean and sustainable energy supplies. These ill-effects tend to be concentrated and heightened in poorer regions of the world, where reliance on biomass for cooking leads to environmental degradation; exposure to smoke contributes to a range of health issues; and the daily work of women and children (usually girls) to gather fuel, increases their vulnerability to sexual and other forms of violence. Reducing the household energy access gap is a priority for Sustainable Development (SDG7).

A number of initiatives have been undertaken by governments and organisations around the world. As isolated measures, however, such initiatives have tended to ignore relationships between people; and peoples’ relations to their kitchen ‘things’, including the material, embedded and profoundly cultural practices of cooking and energy use. Indeed, the 2019 International Energy Agency report identified that inattention to social and cultural contexts was a leading cause of previous attempts’ failure to address the issue of clean cooking facilities.

This project explores these interrelations in Malawi and Bangladesh, two regions which exemplify the current crisis. Taking the ‘kitchen’ as the central unit of analysis, the work examines the connections between people and the things that make up their kitchen lives. The work pilots a novel methodological approach combining visual ethnography, energy life history, and biographies of kitchen things and practices, in order to explore everyday kitchen life at these sites. The knowledge gained is set not only to deepen understandings of kitchen life in these areas, but piloting the methods will support the longer-term vision of this project to secure funding for a larger, interdisciplinary project aimed to respond and inform initiatives relating to SGD7. Final research outputs of this current phase of work include a visual documentary film, dissemination workshops, academic papers and policy briefings.