Kitchen Life Project

The Kitchen Life project is an interdisciplinary research pilot on sustainable cooking as it relates to energy, air pollution, and nutrition in two regions in Africa and Asia. Taking the ‘kitchen’ as the unit of analysis, three interlinked aspects will be investigated: everyday cooking practices, cooking economy and cooking materials.  A cultural understanding of everyday kitchen life in Bangladesh and Malawi will contribute essential and often overlooked insights to the related fields of energy, sustainability, and health. This project is funded by SFC-GCRF.

Project Team

PI, Co-Is & Project Manager

Lisa Bradley (PI), School of Education, University of Glasgow

Raihana Ferdous (Co-I), School of Education, University of Glasgow

Manosh Paul (Co-I), School of Engineering, University of Glasgow

Vanessa Duclos (Project Manager), School of Education, University of Glasgow

Partners

Deepa Pullanikkatil, Abundance, Malawi

Boyson Moyo, LUANAR, Malawi

AKM Mazharul Islam, Institute of Applied Anthropology, Bangladesh

Meghna Gupta, Visual Ethnographer, UK

Support team

Dora Nyirenda, LUANAR, Malawi

Stewart Paul, Abundance, Malawi

Chikondi Kamvazakazi, Abundance, Malawi

Project Scope

The kitchen is an essential unit of any household. It regulates not only everyday cooking activities but also family interactions, gender dynamics and determines food choices, fuel and quality of health. The kitchen is a space where the energy of life, i.e. food, is prepared, but is also a space which can take lives if there is no access to clean and reliable energy. According to the International Energy Agency report (2019), 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 (World Health Organization report, 2016).

Reducing the household energy access gap is a priority within the Sustainable Development Goals. The challenges in Africa and South Asia are severe – only 29% and 35% of the population, respectively, have access to clean cooking. In Malawi more than 97% of the population rely on firewood/charcoal and more than 90% of households use traditional biomass for cooking in Bangladesh (Clean Cooking Alliance). To enhance access to clean energy and achieve SDG7, a number of initiatives have been undertaken by the Malawian and Bangladeshi governments and international organisations. These initiatives have mostly given attention to improving technical aspects of cooking stoves and enhancing financial accessibility to clean energy. A major drawback of these initiatives has involved ignoring the cultural aspects of cooking and relations between people, the kitchen space and everyday cooking practices.

Cooking is an ingrained and profoundly cultural experience, and the kitchen is the space where these practices arise, live and are passed down over generations in any culture. Introducing new technology without having cultural insight leads to failure. Thus, taking ‘kitchen’ as a unit of analysis and ‘kitchen life’ as an active agent, this research will develop a socio-cultural understanding of everyday kitchen life of these two countries, and will provide a firm ground to develop subsequent research on access to sustainable cooking energy, one of the most challenging issues of our time.

Objectives and Outputs

The project will deploy ethnographic approach using visual and non-visual methods: in-depth interviews, energy life history, biography of kitchen stuffs and visual diary to:

1

Build an understanding about kitchen lives in diverse communities in Malawi and Bangladesh

2

Conduct qualitative research on energy using material culture and visual ethnography

3

Develop partnerships in Malawi and Bangladesh around clean energy access (SDG7)