Cooking over an open fire is still a way of life for some 3 billion people, as are the deadly effects of respiratory illnesses that kill millions each year. Solar cookers can change that.
In the developed world, cooking dinner doesn't require hours of gathering fuel, and doesn't constantly expose one to smoke and soot, but in other parts of the world, preparing food can be a hazardous task due to the reliance on open fires and dirty fuels. An estimated 4 million women and children around the world die each year from respiratory illnesses, with these illnesses being directly related to their roles as wood gatherers, firekeepers, and cooks. They are also exposed to an increased chance for harm through having to travel increasingly far from home to gather fuel, and although their fuel-gathering activities are implicated in deforestation, one of the big issues of our time, they often don't have any other choice if they want to be able to eat.
However, there is a solution that can make a difference, because it relies on the always-free fuel of sunlight for cooking, and this solution also happens to be one that you can use at home as a way of reducing your energy consumption and carbon footprint. Solar cookers, or solar ovens, aren't a new development, as the power of the sun has been harnessed to cook food for a long time, but getting them into the hands of the people who would most benefit from them, such as those who rely on open fires and dirty fuels for cooking, is an idea whose time has truly come.
One company that is working to make a difference in this arena is Solavore, a women-owned business that is lead by the belief that "cooking fuel should be healthy and as abundant as sunlight."
The founder, Anne Patterson, launched the company to resume the production of a popular solar oven from the humanitarian organization Solar Oven Society (SOS), which had previously supplied more than 20,000 of its clean cooking solutions to people in Haiti, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and other locations in the developing world before its funding ran out in 2013.
Solavore now produces the flagship solar oven of SOS, the Sport, which is proven, reliable, and efficient, and capable of cooking enough food for a family of 8 to eat two meals per day. The oven can simmer, bake, dehydrate, pasteurize water, and more, with typical temperatures inside the units ranging from 210º to 260º F, with a maximum of about 300º F. The company describes the capabilities of the Sport like this: "It simmers like a crock pot and bakes like an oven."
The Sport weighs just 9 pounds, is built to be durable, and is small enough to be portable, which makes it a great option for an alternate cookstove for those of us who want to take a "baby step off the grid" by using solar energy for cooking. It could also be a great addition to an emergency preparedness kit or camping equipment, or even just to help keep the kitchen cool during hot summer days by moving the cooking outside. However, for those many families in the developing world for whom cooking and fuel is a matter of life and death, the Sport could literally change their lives by giving them an effective option for cooking that requires no fuel and has no noxious emissions.
That's the big push behind Solavore's Indiegogo campaign, which offers backers the choice of reserving their own Sport oven for pledges of $239, which is a great way to get started in solar cooking, or the option of underwriting the donation of an oven to a family in the developing world for a pledge of $145, or the chance to do both for $350 with a 'buy one give one' program.
Getting more solar ovens into more kitchens is an admirable goal, but the element of Solavore's mission that has perhaps the most potential for change is its positioning of the solar oven as a useful tool for change not only in individual homes, but also as an economic tool for change in communities. The ovens could serve as pathways to entrepreneurship and small business success for women, both through the use of them for producing foods for sale, as well as through the local assembly of the ovens and through sales and distribution of the units.
Currently, Solavore is trying to raise $40,000 in 45 days through its Indiegogo campaign, which will help to launch a revolving fund for 100 solar ovens in partnership with the organization Hand in Hand, as well as underwrite the expansion of a pilot program in Kenya and train more solar cooking advocates in Cambodia. With your help, the company can put out more fires in more homes, which can lead to better health and economic well-being for those families and communities. More info is available at Solavore.