This post comments on “Lucky iron fish persuades Cambodian women to cook with iron, stave off anemia,” written by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing. It was written for THINKmicro.com
Anemia is a massive issue in the developing world, with more than 3.5 billion people affected, the majority of them in poor nations. It occurs when there is a lack of iron in a persons diet. The usual source of iron is meat or certain leafy greens, but poor people often can’t afford these foods or expensive iron tablets. Thus, they are often struck by anemia, which can lead to horrible health issues and, if it afflicts a pregnant woman, birth defects in the child.
However, there’s a really easy solution to this problem: cook with iron. Literally. The iron, when cooked with, leeches into the food, providing enough iron to fulfil dietary requirements. The two most common ways to “cook with iron” are by using a cast iron skillet to cook in, or to literally chuck a piece of iron (the metal, like an iron “nugget”) into whatever pot you are using. In Cambodia, where this project originated, the women didn’t like iron pots/pans because of their price and their weight. Further, they weren’t too keen, understandably, to chuck chunks of metal into their cooking.
That is, until a cunning Canadian student, Christopher Charles came up with a stunning idea. The lucky iron fish:
The researchers used iron bars, to no avail, they tried iron lotuses, but they were just used ornamental and not put in the cook-pots. But then, casting an iron miniature of a fish considered lucky by locals proved to be a wondrous success: women were happy to chuck it in their cook-pots, and each meal now provided 75% of the iron RDI to each person. The rate of anemia plummeted in the village.
This is an amazing idea: it used knowledge of local custom to create an innovative, low-cost solution to a major problem. This is an ideal example of innovative developing-world-conscious problem solving!