In Bangladesh, Cameroon, Rwanda and other places to which I have traveled in the developing world, one of the first things to hit me is the overpowering odor of dark smoke pouring out the windows and doors of small huts and homes in rural towns and villages. That smoke comes from cookstoves which are typically fueled by biomass or dung over which which women spend hours everyday tending and cooking meals.
It is deeply unpleasant to smell. But for people exposed to this smoke everyday it is also extremely dangerous. Respiratory illness caused by long term exposure to this smoke kills about two million people a year. It is also an economically draining. The hours spent gathering enough fuel to keep the fire going could probably be more productively put to use.
One year ago at the Clinton Global Initiative Secretary Clinton and several other partners (including the UN Foundation–disclosure) formed the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to help spur market based solutions to the problem of these dirty cookstoves. Essentially, the alliance wants to substitute these old cooking techniques with a healthier (and more eco-friendly) alternatives.
Today it would seem that the Alliance got a boost with Chef Jose Andres, who has a mini culinary empire of Mediterranean style restaurants in DC. Secretary Clinton named him “Culinary Ambassador” today in a meeting at the State Department. From DipNote:
Some may wonder why Chef Andres is partnering with the U.S. Government, the United Nations Foundation, actress Julia Roberts, and a rapidly growing list of over 160 other Alliance partners. After witnessing the impact of dirty cooking and living conditions while assisting in post-earthquake humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti, Chef Andres founded World Central Kitchen to provide innovative solutions to alleviate hunger throughout the developing world — including the deployment of clean and innovative cooking solutions. In his own words, “I have seen this silent killer first hand, and I am therefore honored to join the Alliance helping to raise additional awareness.”
Every day, nearly 3 billion people use a crude stove or open fire to cook their meals — typically fueled by biomass such as wood, charcoal or dung — in homes with poor or no ventilation. Exposure to smoke from these stoves has been categorized by the World Health Organization as the fifth biggest health risk factor in the developing world and causes two million people to die each year, mostly from acute pneumonia and chronic lung disease. The vast majority of deaths are among women and children in the developing world.
I am confident that as Culinary Ambassador, Chef Jose Andres will be an instrumental partner in realizing a future in which open fires and dirty stoves are replaced by clean, efficient and affordable stoves and fuels all over the world.
And his commitment won’t just save lives, it will improve the lives and livelihoods of countless women across the globe.
I wonder if the title of culinary ambassador requires senate confirmation? Even so, I bet he could win a few recalcitrant Senators over with a seat at the MiniBar.