Solar cookers’ Shine On at Sierra 2

Solar Cookers International (SCI) held its annual Shine On event Aug. 21 at the Sierra 2 community center in Curtis Park. The event included demonstrations of solar cooking, complimentary solar-cooked food and two informative presentations hosted by notable Sacramentans. About 250 people of all ages were in attendance.

SCI volunteer Del Tura demonstrated the potential of the solar box cooker. Overlooking a large lamp positioned near a cooker, Tura enthusiastically described the history and effectiveness of the device, which has been been used since the 1970s by U.S. hobbyists. "Earlier today we had the cooker in the parking lot; it reached 250 degrees. Under the lamp, it only gets to about 200."

Inside the cooker were 15 chocolate chip cookies, baking under the simulated sunlight. "It takes about 30 to 45 minutes for the cookies to bake, but there’s very high moisture."

The first presentation of the evening, hosted by former Sacramento Bee food editor, author and Capitol Public Radio reporter Eline Corn, contextualized the solar cooking movement within America’s broader need to claim ownership of the cooking process. "Somehow, in our society, putting the food in your mouth has jumped over the preparation." Food preparation is ancient and precious, she said. "We have given that power [of preparation] to someone we don’t even know."

With the solar cooker, it is possible to cook many different foods – chicken, fish, vegetables, pastries – easily and sustainably.

Although the solar box cooker is used by many enthusiasts in the United States, the device represents only the first generation of solar-baking technology. Thanks to the work of SCI, newer, more portable and less expensive solar cookers are being distributed and used in many sun-rich developing nations, such as Kenya and the Philippines.

In his presentation, microbiologist and humanitarian Dr. Bob Metcalf described the vast potential of solar cooking in the developing world, where water contamination and fuel shortages are major obstacles to healthy living. Traditionally in these communities, contaminated water was boiled; however, boiling water requires resources that are often unavailable in the world’s most impoverished areas.

Solar cookers and the WAPI (water pasteurization indicator) provide these distraught communities with a potential solution to their purification and dietary needs. The reusable WAPI, a small partially wax-filled plastic tube, is placed in the middle of a black pot, which is located in the center of a solar cooker. "When the wax in the tube moves, you’ve pasteurized water at 65°C or 149°F," Metcalf explained.

The WAPI is a useful visual aid, enabling villagers to see the purification of water in a solar cooker, which cannot normally reach the temperatures necessary to boil water. Through this method, it is possible to pasteurize five liters of water in two and a half hours with a solar cooker; done twice, this process provides a typical family with a multiple-day water supply.

Water purification can have significant and immediate effects. Metcalf showed a photograph of a smiling African mother helped by his aid team. The team had given her a water purification kit and $25 solar cooker. "Thank you," she said, "because my children used to get diarrhea all the time, and now they don’t."

The Sacramento-based Solar Cookers International is attempting to raise $50,000 before the end of September. Donated funds will be used to support SCI’s worldwide aid programs.

Solar Cookers International.

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August 28, 2009 | 9:14 AM

I want to eat those cookies!

August 28, 2009 | 2:41 PM

great article! informative and inspirational. thank you!

August 28, 2009 | 3:28 PM

I am flashing back to my childhood and remembering summer days being 110 and seeing if it was hot enough to cook cookies in a car parked in the sun! Great article, and beautiful pictures by the way. What a great and effective device to be used in third world nations. If this has been around since the 1970s why hasn’t this idea really caught on? Is the technology expensive to mass produce?

August 28, 2009 | 3:42 PM

Even though the devices have been around for decades, there’s a lack of knowledge out there when it comes to solar cooking. I admit I was skeptical at first, but the solar cookers do really work!

I’m not sure about the scalability of the production of solar cookers, but I’d imagine the solar cooker would be like most other items; the more we produce, the cheaper each unit gets.

Article Author
September 10, 2009 | 12:25 PM

This idea has been around longer than the 1970s. In fact, Augustine Mouchot, a frenchman, made a portable solar cooker for Napoleon’s troops in the French Foreign Legion in 1877. There is an even earlier use of the concept recorded, when in 1767, Horace de Saussure, (another Frenchman!), heated soup in an insulated box covered by layers of glass.

September 3, 2009 | 12:52 AM

GREAT photos, as usual.

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