This year, as I light my stove to make my Thanksgiving dinner, I will be thankful to have that flame. That clean and clear flame that I’ll use to boil a pot of water for my potatoes, or simmer my turkey gravy; this fire that I have at my fingertips, it’s something we often take for granted. For so many people around the world creating fire, finding the fuel, is an incredibly difficult effort, and it is having a heavy impact on their lives.
I’m thankful that my wife and daughters are able to cook together without it threatening their lives. According to the World Health Organization, over 4 million people around the world, mostly women and children, die prematurely every year from household cooking smoke. The same flame that they need to survive is killing them.
I’m thankful that the money I need for fuels and to cook doesn’t take away from important things my family needs like shelter, medicine and clothing. Because in countries where they rely on inefficient cooking methods, families can spend up to 60% of their incomes just to be able to get fuel and feed themselves.
I’m thankful that my daughters are able to receive an education, and that when they come from school, they can go out outside and play. Because in places like the Sudan, many children spend their whole day outside searching and traveling far from their villages, and from safety, to go and collect fuel, wood and water to use for cooking.
I’m thankful that every time I light my stove to cook a meal, I’m not jeopardizing my environment – the woods, the oceans around me – because where harmful cooking methods are being used, they are damaging their natural habitat, creating deforestation can in turn destroy their livelihoods. And then when the rains come, this rain that is supposed to be giving them life, washes away all of the healthy soil, and this soil pours into the ocean and damages the coral reefs, ruining the ecosystems and their ability to farm, to fish, to create fuel.
I’m thankful that I am able to cook for my family in a clean and safe way. Lighting my stove only takes a couple of seconds and a turn of a knob, but in places where they don’t have adequate access to clean cookstoves, countries like Haiti, or Cambodia, or Kenya, their stoves are creating a cycle of death.
But most importantly, I’m thankful that clean and improved cooking exists. That energy like liquid petroleum gas and solar cookstoves are within reach and can be affordable for all. With all of the problems our world is facing and all of the complicated solutions they have, a humble cookstove and cleaner fuel combinations can change the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It’s one simple solution for us to take.
José Andrés is the Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves and the chef and owner of ThinkFoodGroup with 18 restaurants across the U.S. He is also the founder of the non-profit World Central Kitchen.