Last updated: 25 November 2015
After having done many solar workshops, I've always wanted to know the extent to which families are really continuing to use it. And after checking around a good deal, it seems to me that the technology is not really taking hold enough to change overall cooking habits. The participants are always very excited about the technique during the workshops, and I give them "homework" tasks afterward, which include teaching others to solar cook, et al. But in general they do not seem to be continuing it long term, and I've tried to analyze the reasons:
- Most of the solar cookers we use, including models being commercially made and sold, as well as designs we make on our own, are too small for an average family in indigenous or traditional communities. Generally extended families live and eat together, an average of 6-10 persons. The standard black enamel pots that we generally use hold enough for only a small family. The main exception to that is the "family size" version of the Ulog. We have made those, but they tend to be very heavy and a little unwieldy, so that's a drawback we haven't solved yet.
- In our own village and many of the others in our mountain area, there is plenty of firewood, so there isn't the urgency for fuel that exists in many places. I've often thought that some of those places in Africa, where apparently the Cook-it has really caught on well, one of the main differences may be the lack of adequate fuel, where people have to either walk long distances in unsafe areas, or spend part of their scarce food money to buy wood or other fuel.
- Also, something that is no doubt hard to fathom for all of us who were brought up on gas stove cooking, for people in this culture, there is something about the smell of wood smoke and a fire going that feels homey, familiar, and good to folks -- the warm and familiar sense of family, etc. Sometimes people even say that the food tastes better when cooked over a wood fire. (Although many folks also have said that solar cooked food has more flavor! I've heard that a number of times as a reason for not liking gas stoves. A few people around here even have small gas stoves, but they generally don't use them much - perhaps only when there's an emergency to get a fire quickly.
Besides the various types of simple solar cookers that I make with groups: Cookit, Windshield Shade Solar Cooker model, and others, my husband, Phil, and the teenagers he has trained in carpentry, make the Ulog box cookers. We're searching for a way to make a good reflector for that model, also a better version of the larger, family--size one. I keep thinking we need to find a way to make something as efficient as the Sun Oven. My son gave me one, and I use it nearly all the time. None of the ones we've ever made can measure up to that efficiency. And here in these mountains, known as "país de las nubes" (land of clouds), it is often at least partially cloudy, so a very efficient cooker would encourage folks to use it more. We need to find a way to make good extra reflectors. As models to use with the local people, we are committed to using only cookers that we can make locally, so as to be sustainable.
- See Kathy Dahl-Bredine.