Connections: A Hot Idea

The point is made that simple solar thermal cookers, which are not photo-voltaic, are cheap, portable, and able to benefit a third of the world’s people

    My friend A.J. has a mission. As a leader of an organization called Solar Cookers International, which encourages the use of solar thermal cooking in sunny parts of the world, she has proposed that the United Nations make solar cooking — as a  “renewable, freely replaceable fuel for the daily preparation of food and safe water, without contaminating the environment” — a basic human right. “All people should have access to that right,” a document she recently submitted to the U.N. states.

    The point is made that simple solar thermal cookers, which are not photo-voltaic, are cheap, portable, and able to benefit a third of the world’s people, largely the poorest, who now rely on low-grade organic fuels, such as wood or dung, or fossil fuels, which are polluting.

    At an anniversary party at A.J.’s house not long ago, a small solar cooker was set on top of the grand piano, obviously not to be used that day. But this week, she sent out a short video showing a woman outside Boulder, Colo., who made an entire Thanksgiving dinner last year on three solar cookers.

    The sun must be strong up there in the Colorado mountains at Thanksgiving time (although the temperature the day the video was made was cold enough for dinner guests to be bundled in winter coats). The cookers were of various sizes, and the biggest, which held a good-sized uncooked turkey, had an oven thermometer in it reading 325 degrees.

    A few minutes later, you get to see the bird being carved, and the chef, Patty Rogers, announcing to the guests, with a broad smile, that the whole shebang was done in solar ovens: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies. . . . An off-screen quip is heard: “And the salad.” And then the background music turns to the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”  (What else?)

    The document A.J. submitted to the U.N. has been accepted for discussion in connection with the organization’s global post-2015 development goals. It describes the whys and hows of solar thermal cooking. Solar Cookers International, which can be found at solarcookers.org, offers resources, education, and training on the technology, which it says is now accessible and affordable.

    To quote one salient paragraph: “Examples of effective deployment of solar cooking today . . . are sanitizing hospital instruments in Nepal, cooking for schools and villages in India, running bakeries in Latin America, and the deployment of more than 12,000 cookers currently at use feeding refugees from Darfur in a camp in Chad. Local manufacture is encouraged and increased and numerous designs are now available as prototypes.”

    A.J. hopes to see solar thermal cooking make the world a better place. I do, too.