For millions of people, finding enough fuel to cook food is a daily struggle.
In some parts of the world, women spend many hours, traveling 5, 10 miles away from home simply to collect enough firewood too cook food for their family. During these walks, they are susceptible to violence and it is also time not spent on other things, such as school. Trees are cut down, which contributes to deforestation and ecosystem destruction, thus widening the distances people have to travel to forage. These wood and charcoal fires give off carbon emissions, contributing to climate change, but also cause health problems at home due to smoke inhalation. And even after all of this work, tending the fire requires consistent attention, which means long hours spent watching a pot boil instead of studying, working or doing other important jobs.
This simple, electricity-free slow cooker called The Wonderbag addresses all of these problems.
Designed in 2008 by the Durban, South Africa-based entrepreneur Sarah Collins of Natural Balance, the Wonderbag is a simple idea, but the changes it creates for women can ripple out to create positive change in a number of ways.
Here's how Collins explains her inspiration for the Wonderbag:
I grew up in South Africa, so I was already aware of the huge social, environmental, and economic problems stemming from wood fire cooking in Africa. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a conventional stove. However, in 2008, there was a four-month period there where power outages were rampant. When we'd lose power, my grandmother would take whatever was cooking off the stove and wrap it in blankets to keep it slow cooking for hours. It made me realize that heat retention cooking could be a simple, but incredibly powerful way to help my fellow Africans.
Because it works by using a little fuel to bring foods to a boil before putting the hot pot in the bag, Collins notes that the Wonderbag greatly reduces the use of additional energy and frees up women's precious time. This means women can cook delicious, hot meals while saving energy and money for their families and spend more hours looking after children, learning or earning their own income.
As we've noted before, empowering women is a hugely under-appreciated factor in creating a more sustainable world. That's why the Wonderbag has such potential for creating change. Collins hopes to have 100 million Wonderbags distributed throughout the world, which will free up the time of women and girls, so they are more likely to become more highly educated, get better jobs and have better lives and improve the environment, as a result.
It is so simple - a bag you put a pot inside! - but the impact is huge.
According to Collins, cooking with the bag can reduce a family's fuel usage up to 30% - saving money and easing poverty. It reduces CO2 emissions and toxic fumes which means less respiratory problems and a cleaner environment. It reduces accidental burns in the kitchen, because stoves are used less. It also saves precious water, because less evaporation occurs, meaning moisture and flavor stay in the pot. And it saves food. According to Collins, 20% of all staple food in Africa is burned, due to pots being placed on open fires and unregulated stove tops. Like other slow cookers, the Wonderbag won't burn the food.
Add all of this up, and it's easy to see how big of a change in lifestyle the Wonderbag can bring to families in poverty.
Collins is also teaming up with Amazon.com to sell Wonderbags in the UK and US. For every bag sold in the US, one will be donated to a family in Africa. The bags also use fabric inspired by traditional African shweshwe and batik fabrics, so if you're using your Wonderbag here in the US, it seems like the fabric could help create opportunities to share the story of the bag and how it creates a ripple effect of change around the world.
The insulation material also increases the sustainability of the product. According to Collins, they use "recycled chip foam which is a byproduct of mattress and furniture manufacturing in South Africa, that would otherwise go to landfill or be dumped in the ocean."
I really enjoy using a slow cooker, but the size of the pot is hard to clean in my current New York apartment sink. I like that I can use different sized pots in the Wonderbag. And when you leave for the day, you don't have to worry about having the crock pot plugged in unattended, though that has never bothered me as it does some people. But whether you care about that safety or not, it's great to be able to not use any electricity and still end up with nice slow cooked meals.
There are also some great slow cooker recipes on the Wonderbag site, including those from Africa and other countries where people are cooking with the bag.
To learn more or buy your own, visit Wonderbag.
Here's a look at where the bags are manufactured:
More videos on The Wonderbag: