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I was just introduced to solar cooking

Even at the ripe of age of 79, I am living proof of the old adage, “You learn something new every day.” Recently, I was visiting someone who had a solar cooker on her deck. I don’t think I’d ever seen one and wonder if I ever had heard of them. I learned so much, I decided I wanted to share some information with you listeners.

[I want to thank the folks from Solar Cookers International, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, California who worked with me to give me useful information that I could share with both the listeners to the original commentary and the readers of this expanded version.]

A solar cooker utilizes the direct rays of the sun to cook food. Just as a closed car on a hot, sunny day can build up a very high temperature, a solar cooker concentrates the rays of the sun on the item being cooked. According to the experts I consulted solar cookers can cook all types of food. It should be obvious that any food cooked in a solar cooker reduces the carbon footprint of the cooks. No need to burn wood, burn natural gas, burn other fossil fuels to generate electricity. Every meal cooked with a solar cooker is a step towards saving the planet.

Solar cookers come in all shapes and sizes. Some function like a crock pot, some like an oven and some like a wok. They can be assembled from simple raw materials such as aluminum foil and cardboard but there are large much more elaborate versions as well.

Here is an incomplete list of the variety of Solar Cookers:

There are solar panel cookers, solar box cookers, parabolic solar cookers, evacuated tube solar cookers, solar through cookers, solar array cookers and fresnel solar cookers. These are explained at the following URL: https://solarcooking.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Solar_cooker_plans

At that link, there are pictures and descriptions of how these various cookers work and can be constructed.

It boggled my (ignorant) mind to learn that Solar Cookers International has identified over 4 million solar cookers around the world. The 4 million solar cookers are estimated to be helping over 14 million people --- cooking over 7.7 billion meals. Naturally, they are being used in very sunny locations such as India, China, and Africa. The folks at Solar Cookers International told me that solar cooking is successfully being implemented on an institutional level, in India for example, using steam generated by the sun to then cook indoors. These systems can prepare tens of thousands of meals in a day.

[Here is a reference from 2019 to the prospects for using institutional size solar cookers in India: S. Indora and T.C. Kandpal, “Solar energy for institutional cooking in India: prospects and potential.” Environ Dev Sustain 22, 7153–7175 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00471-9 available at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10668-019-00471-9. There are many references to relevant research at this site.

However, not only countries with round the year sunshine can use this technology. Counter-intuitively, solar cookers are also used in the Arctic, Canada, (and in New York State --- I’ve seen a couple of NY State located solar cookers).

Solar cookers can be incorporated into household and community cooking practices, and of course they do not have to replace all current cooking methods. Even part-time use of solar cookers helps combat climate change, reduces air pollution and deforestation, protects biodiversity, and improves health.

Currently, the world is suffering from a fuel shortage affecting the abilities of populations to cook. Communities that rely on wood fires are suffering from deforestation. As forests become denuded, people have to travel further and further to gather wood. Women in refugee camps who have to make such treks are often in danger of being assaulted while outside the camp. In addition, many of those fires use garbage and animal wastes as well as wood. Burning garbage and waste endangers the health of the cooks and everyone around those fires.

Replacing wood fires with solar cookers are an integral part of the fight against not only climate change and deforestation but also to reduce air pollution and avoid health problems for those who have to tend the fires.

Solar cookers are easy to use and assemble. To buy and/or build them, check out the solar cooking wiki at https://solarcooking.fandom.com/wiki/Solar_Cooking_Wiki_(Home)

You can use a solar cooker to cook any day you can see your shadow. If there are shadows, makes sure the shadow is under or away from the cooker. Place the food in a dark pot with a lid, put the pot in the solar cooker, and aim the cooker at the sun. The dark pot absorbs the heat.

Solar cooking is simple and efficient. You can put a casserole, vegetables, dessert, or something like chicken tikka masala for example, in your cooker in the morning, go on with your day, and have a meal waiting for you when it’s time for dinner. (And individuals who use solar cookers have told me that the food is absolutely delicious.)

I am just beginning to learn about it and urge people who were as ignorant as I was to inform themselves. Though these cookers would be useful for anyone wishing to reduce their carbon footprints, they are essential for people in parts of the world suffering from fuel shortages. According to the folks at Solar Cookers International, using one solar cooker can allow a family in developing countries to avoid using one ton of firewood for open-fire cooking per year, which prevents carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Those 4+ million solar cookers are preventing the release of over 30 million tons of CO2 over their lifetime. Using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, it is estimated to be preventing 30 million tons of CO2 from being released is equal to not driving over 76 billion miles.

In my oral presentation I urged listeners to check out this written version. My guess is that for most commentaries, relatively few people bother to read the longer version on the WAMC website. I am hopeful that for this particular longer version, that is not the case. Informing oneself about solar cooking in greater detail than I could give in the oral version is a very easy way to contribute to saving the planet, saving the lives of people in fuel deficient regions, and reducing pollution and deforestation. Even if one never assembles or cooks with a solar cooker, spreading the word may influence someone else to try it. However, maybe some readers will try it and come to agree that the food is indeed delicious and that using a solar cooker is easier than one might have thought.

Here are two more links that were shared with me by the folks at Solar Cookers International.

To learn more, visit: https://www.solarcookers.org/

Scroll to see manufacturers close to your home: https://solarcooking.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Manufacturers_and_vendors

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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