Cooking Up Air Pollution in the Kitchen: Facts and Solutions

Have you ever considered the pollutants our everyday cooking techniques pump into the air that will result in pollution in the kitchen we breathe at home?

It may cross your mind when the occasional burnt toast alerts a nearby smoke detector. Yet most of the time we simply don’t consider our home cooking methods as contributors to the global air pollution crisis. Every year 7 million people die, because of pollution created when cooking, according to the World Health Organisation. Our humble kitchen efforts are hardly as deadly a factor as commercial factory combustibles or the emissions from fossil-fuel-burning vehicles. However, we can take steps to curb the airborne impact of the way we eat. Small measures do add up.

Deep frying: you air what you eat

Have you ever wondered what exactly is in the makeup of urban smog? Well if you live in London, more than 10 percent of the air particles are cooking fat. It gets vapourised into the air whilst frying.

As if we don’t have enough health reasons to stop indulging in deep-fried foods, now you can add air pollution to that list. But you don’t need to live without fried chicken and onion rings, you just need to cook with less oil by swapping your deep fryer for an air fryer. These gadgets vastly reduce the unhealthy oils needed for frying whilst also spewing less grease into the atmosphere.

Stovetop cooking: ventilate, ventilate, ventilate

If your stovetop lacks a hood, or the hood doesn’t ventilate to the outdoors, you’re breathing in concentrated nitrogen dioxide, a respiratory irritant, every time you cook. Both gas burners, and to a lesser degree electric burners, produce nitrogen dioxide and ultrafine particles. These can be extremely hazardous if inhaled frequently or in large quantities. Thankfully, keeping your kitchen good ventilation is all it takes as protection. It is beneficial for you and your family from the harmful effects of these air pollutants.

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Wood fires: deadly inhalants

There’s nothing quite like the flavour of a wood-fired pizza or a burger grilled over an open flame. But cooking with wood, whilst a renewable fuel source, is one of the dirtiest ways to cook when it comes to air quality. Smoke from a wood fire contains many small particles. Anyone who has been suddenly caught downwind from a campfire knows can be quite painful to eyes, nose, and throat. It can also exacerbate chronic conditions like asthma.

Unfortunately, for many people in developing countries, cooking with wood or coal is the only viable option for a warm meal at home. 1.6 million deaths each year – mostly women and children – can be attributed to diseases. It is the effect from smoke inhalation from open cooking fires.

In recent years, the wider availability of fuel-efficient cook stoves is helping to mitigate the polluting effects of cooking fires. The special design for these stoves is to use a fraction of the fuel an open fire would burn, saving households money. It is also for emitting way less toxic smoke into the air. Please consider swapping your old grill for a more efficient model to cut the smoke factor. Though you only cook over a wood fire outdoors and for fun.

Breathe easy

Certainly, the hidden harms of how you cook may have you thinking twice about how frequently you burn fossil fuels to make a meal. But for the times where you crave a certain culinary delight, there are tools and methods available to cook with a clean conscience when it comes to air pollution.