Did you know that nearly three billion people in the world still rely on wood, animal dung, crop waste, charcoal, or fossil fuels for cooking and boiling water? Yes, these are the women and girls in third world countries, the world’s poorest households where fuel is about 40 percent of these households’ budget. Unfortunately, these women and children also suffer disproportionately from the health effects of breathing the pollutants produced by these cooking fires. The World Health Organization estimates that up to seven million premature deaths annually result from respiratory diseases caused by breathing air polluted with carbon and black soot produced by the burning of biomass and other fuels that produce emissions.
The combined economic and health problems, however, can be greatly reduced by applying solar energy technologies. Using free solar energy for cooking food and making water safe to drink saves money spent on fuels and the time needed to gather fuel. Moreover, women will have time to use their energy to contribute in other economically useful ways to their families. Using solar cooking will eliminate not only pollution but also reduce cutting down trees, which results in soil erosion and decreases in crop production.
Solar Cookers International (SCI; www.solarcookers.org), founded in 1987, has produced and distributed a manual describing the construction and use of solar box style cookers. In the 1990s it supported the development of COOKIT, a mass-producible foldable solar cooker, made of a foil-lined cardboard reflector with a dark pot inside a plastic bag. The aluminum foil deflects sunlight to the dark pot. The plastic bag conserves the heat generated from the sunlight. This arrangement can cook one or two pots of food at the same time. By taking advantage of midday sunshine, evening meals can be cooked slowly and not burnt. Since 1996 SCI has networked throughout the world to introduce solar cooking. To date three million solar cookers have impacted over 11 million people’s lives.
Besides the economic and environmental benefits of solar cookers, the lower temperature in solar cooking preserves more of the natural nutrients in the food. I bought COOKIT 10 years ago and have used it whenever I make sundried cherry tomatoes and blueberries, spread out on the grilling pan. I have also roasted my uncooked nuts in COOKIT. I find using COOKIT to cook rice and to bake Scottish shortbread gives me the freedom to walk away during the cooking process without having water boiling over or burning the food due to over cooking or overheating. In North America people have made bread, cakes and full meals with solar cookers too. With better solar cookers which can speed up cooking, more people will likely take advantage of solar cooking. A more detailed discussion of solar cooking will be presented next month.