Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pressure cookers: an essential part of any green kitchen!

There are people who argue that a raw food diet is the only healthy way to go.  A friend of ours followed this way of eating for a time, and she seemed to be healthy enough, though I worried when she talked about her non-veg preparations!  There is no doubt that many foods are tasty and healthy when eaten raw. Still, I don't think I'd want to give up cooked food completely, forever.  

In fact, I think good cooking is, and continues to be, one of the greatest--and least recognized--cultural achievements of human kind. How many women (and men) over how many years refined our understanding of the joys of the coconut, say, or the mango? What about those who figured out how to grow and prepare rice, dal, wheat? And we mustn't forget yogurt and beer. We know who invented peanut butter, but most of the great food inventors are long forgotten.  This is probably because food preparation and innovation has always been low status work. Ancient kings were not in the habit of building memorials to cooks; and considering the wages earned by most people who cook for a living today, it would appear that things haven't changed much.

Cooked food is important for reasons other than the joy we get from eating.  Cooking kills many harmful bacteria.  Cooked food is also easier and more efficient to digest, which means it gives more energy.  In fact, some scientists argue that the increased energy that we get from cooked food was part of what allowed human beings to evolve relatively large brains and relatively small stomachs as compared to other primates. Raw food is fine, they say, for a sedentary life, but it just won't cut it for people who hunt--or do hard manual labour--for a living.  In fact this argument is much more complicated and interesting than that; Steven Mithen wrote a fascinating article about it in the New York Review of Books a few months back, which you should read. It's no longer available on-line, but I found another version of it here; you just need to scroll down past its Danish introduction.)

That, my friends, is my defense of cooked food: it's one of the finer things in life, and it gives us the energy we need.  That said, cooking is not without its environmental consequences . Everyone knows that cooking requires heat, which typically comes either from some sort of flame or from electricity. That means pollution, climate change and more.

Given that we have to cook, it makes sense to do it as efficiently as possible. One way to do this would be to spend huge amounts of money remodeling your kitchen in a "green" way, as this couple in the US did. That way makes an architect, a contractor and any number of companies happy.  But there are other options for people who care about the planet. Like the good old pressure cooker! In the US, few people use pressure cookers, perhaps because, as one blogger wrote, they "suffer a bit from that grandma image." 

Of course pressure cookers never went out of style in India.   That's because they save a LOT of energy--up to 70%, in fact.   Pressure cookers are so efficient because they create a high pressure cooking environment. That higher pressure makes water boil at a higher temperature-- and that makes cook faster! And as if that weren't enough, if cooked right, foods prepared in a pressure cooker can also be more nutritious than food boiled conventionally. 

Modern, well-maintained pressure cookers are safe to use if you follow some basic safety tips--don't place the cooker in a heated oven;don't force the lid open; don't get drunk and pass out while cooking your rice.  You can read more of these here. And happy cooking!

Sometimes low tech is the best greentech; for more examples like this, check out our low tech greentech page.


  1. I heard that too - that cooking breaks down the cellular structure of food making it easier for us to digest and therefore improving the efficiency. And of course, there's that whole thing about diseases. Non veg food especially benefits from cooking.

    Totally agree about the pressure cooker. I've seen it myself. Channa, dal and other pulses cook and soften much faster in the cooker. Definitely a must for Indian cooking.

  2. Totally out of the box. Interesting. Never thought about it but going to ponder over it surely.

  3. @Bhagwad and Kabir--sometimes it makes sense to recognize what we are doing that is working already! Good to see you both here.

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