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close this book Boiling Point No. 33 - May 1994 Number 33
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View the document Will people change their diets to save fuel?
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Will people change their diets to save fuel?

by Ian Grant, IT-UK

ITDG's stoves and household energy programme sometimes receives enquiries about the different equipment, methods, and amounts of fuel required to cook the various basic foods used in developing countries. The suggestion is that with more information about comparative fuel usage, women might be willing to change their family's diets to reduce their fuel bills.

We have always assumed that a radical and rapid change of diet is, in most circumstances, a last resort. In our experience, change of diet rarely happens except in situations where people have no choice, for example, in large refugee concentrations which are regarded as a temporary emergency, or when there is an enforced change in the basic food itself. The diet of the very poor, living in difficult environmental conditions is often finely balanced and there is a serious risk of health damage if any major changes are introduced.

Changes in staple foods are not unusual - for example, rice replacing cassava, wheat replacing maize, or loaves replacing flat bread, but these changes may be due more to a desire to save time and effort in the kitchen than one to save fuel. Where saving time and effort are priorities, people often buy foods from local bakeries, which are increasingly using gas, or roadside stalls, rather than cook them at home. This can also be a very effective way of reducing fuel use, particularly if, for instance, the bakery decides to install a more efficient oven or stove so as to reduce its fuel bills.

However fluctuations in the availability of fuel can affect diet. Fuel shortage, for example, can cause the diet to deteriorate; in Bangladesh some families are no longer able to obtain enough fuel to prepare a hot meal (normally rice) at breakfast time, and there seems to be little prospect of the fuel supply improving. Research into fuel requirements for basic food cooking would be useful.