Half the world uses wood, coal, or other solid fuels for cooking, a situation that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.
But Rotarians are supporting a solution: solar ovens that harness the sun’s rays to make a hot meal without harming the planet.
In June, Chicago-area Rotary clubs sent a group of high school students and teachers to the West African nation of Mali to deliver two solar ovens from Sun Ovens International and teach villagers how to use them.
Two more enthusiastic proponents of solar ovens are Wilfred Pimentel, of the Rotary Club of Fresno, California, USA, and his wife, Marie, an honorary member of the club, who have facilitated solar cooker projects through Rotary Foundation Matching Grants on behalf of District 5230.
The Pimentels realized the need for an alternative oven while living in Nigeria, where they witnessed the environmental and health problems caused by wood-burning ovens.
“Chopping down trees strains the environment, especially in areas subject to mudslides,” says Marie. She explains that the wood used in traditional cooking methods requires hours to gather and that burning it can cause severe lung and eye problems, especially for women and children exposed to thick smoke inside poorly ventilated kitchens.
The couple introduced the idea of solar-powered ovens to their club in 1994 after learning about them through the organization Solar Cookers International. The simplest kind is constructed of local, recycled materials.
“The CooKit is cardboard that’s 3 feet by 4 feet, with an upper flap and a bottom flap and four creases so it’s round, and the whole thing is covered in aluminum foil,” explains Marie. “It acts like a Crock-Pot.”
A solar oven can also pasteurize about a quart of water in an hour. The Fresno club distributes a thermometer called a water pasteurization indicator with the ovens. It contains a small amount of soybean fat inside a tube, which melts when the water has reached 149 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to kill most bacteria.
“I’ve seen women take pots out of the cooker, and the steam hits them in the face, and they can’t believe that the food is cooked,” says Marie. “Many of the women don’t know what Rotary is, but they take your hand in both of theirs and look at you, and they say, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
Does a solar oven project appeal to your club? Contact the Rotary Club of Fresno to get started.