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Upon A Roaring Uplifting Fire

Celebrating a time when cooking came from nature’s own playbook

Wood burning stoves have been used for cooking by all premodern societies. In rural India wood burning stoves (chulas) are still part of household kitchens where food is prepared the way it has been for centuries. In recent years there has been an attempt to wean people away from this practice owing to the rising incidence of indoor pollution and a shortage of wood for fuel.

However, until about a century ago this was the way all food was cooked in India – in both wealthy and poor households. Many vouch for the special flavor and character of wood cooked food. It is sought to be revived again today in certain circles who believe in the nutritional supremacy of food so cooked.

In ancient India the cooking of food over a wood fire was akin to a ritual. It was a sattvic exercise that propitiated the gods as much as it satisfied human hunger. Today wood fired ovens enjoy a premium market for the baking of bread and pizzas in urban centers.

Across time and up until today the tribal communities of the Kabini region cook their food upon wood fired stoves. Their simple but nourishing meals have been prepared upon stoves fueled by forest kindling for generations. Local communities grow trees and plants for both fodder and fuel. Ironically, the rising costs of petroleum-based cooking gas is driving the quest for alternatives. In rural India the first choice for many is still fire wood. And it is not simply about costs. It is the continuity of a long tradition that scripted human health from nature’s playbook using clay, wood and a life-giving fire.

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