The Power of Solar Cooking

This article was written and published by the Social Enterprise Alliance. Thanks for the great article, Joe! 

A social enterprise based in Saint Paul, MN, Solavore manufactures and sells solar ovens to families in the developed and developing world.

Solavore customers in developed economies unlock the earth-friendly and cost-effective magic of solar cooking, and their purchase subsidizes the distribution of this clean-cooking technology to the 2.7 billion people in the developing world for whom wood fire is the only cooking option. In developing countries, cooking over an open fire not only causes lung damage (there are four million respiratory deaths a year of women who cook over an open fire), but also rampant deforestation. One example is Kenya, where charcoal burning has been named the biggest threat to the country’s forests, which have dwindled to only two percent of their original size. Solar cooking, meanwhile, relies solely on the energy of the sun. This simple, effective and reliable solution can feed a family for decades.

Launched in January of 2015, Solavore came about when Anne Patterson and her partners reinvigorated the nonprofit Solar Oven Society, which had halted operation in 2012. Their Solavore Sport Oven, based on technology first introduced by solar engineers from 3M Corporation and the University of Arizona fifteen years ago, ships ready for the sun, including the solar oven, detachable reflectors, two 3-quart GraniteWare pots and other accessories. Cooking within a 225-300 degree range, Solavore users can slow-cook, bake and dehydrate food in their ovens. The Solavore oven weighs only nine pounds, allowing for easy transport to campsites or rural areas.

A women-owned business, Solavore works to empower women in the developing world by reducing their dependence on woodfire cooking (and therefore improve their respiratory health), minimizing their time spent looking for fuel and generating income by giving them the opportunity to sell baked goods in the marketplace. In addition, the ovens are assembled and distributed locally, allowing for job creation.

There are indeed other alternatives to woodfire cooking, such as biomass and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cookstoves. Patterson argues that these options might be best in the city where population density makes solar cooking less viable and where propane distribution can be maximized. Solar cooking is the perfect option for rural areas, where sunshine is abundant and propane distribution might be challenging. By partnering with Solar Cookers International, an industry consortium, the organization is working to constantly measure, evaluate and improve its product, getting real-time feedback from project managers.

“If your diet includes meat you’re a carnivore. Herbivores consume plants only. Both? You’re an omnivore. But if you’re a solavore that must mean that you eat ‘of the sun.’ Creating solavores the world over – that’s my goal,” says Patterson. As innovative solutions to poverty and environmental degradation become ever more necessary, solar cooking has emerged as a viable option. Solavore aims to bring this technology to families in developed and developing economies – empowering women, fighting deforestation and igniting local economies in the process.

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