All that energy going to waste!

In her latest article, Sue Bellinger explores the energy wasted whilst preparing our food… read on for an alternative to modern day cooking technology.

All that energy going to waste!

All that heat and hard work – could we swap it for relaxation and quality time? Recently collecting some more Sunstoves for delivery to increasing numbers of folk cottoning on to the cleanliness, simplicity and cost-savings enabled by solar cooking had me thinking about the amount of energy that usually goes into cooking.

First one has to work energetically to make the money to buy the many utensils, stove, microwave, fancy modern cooking pots, etc that the more affluent of us feel we need to have. And much energy is utilized in the sourcing of the materials (often mining) from which those goods are manufactured. Fuel (energy) powers our vehicles when we go to the store to buy the ingredients – and take them home with us.

Let us not kid ourselves when we buy pre-prepared or takeaway food either – the energy embodied (already used to create) that food ‘belongs’ to us, and therefore constitutes part of our carbon footprint, or impact on climate change. If it’s not takeaways we’re after, we diligently get to work with our chopping, slicing and other preparation activities (all requiring energy – and sometimes much cussing too), before we start in on the actual cooking process. Whether in a microwave, oven, slow cooker, or on top of the stove – energy in the form of electricity or gas a-plenty is consumed. The kitchen heats up; the heat extractor goes on – more energy. Lots of dishes to wash as a result of our preparation activities – put on the dishwasher – energy again.

And does our traditional, sociable braai or potjie bring with it zero energy requirements? Not a chance! Quite apart from the same process of collecting and preparing the food, along with the pre-chopped wood or charcoal (energy used in their production too) – we now set ourselves the additional chore of lugging everything to the far end of the garden (and back again afterwards). Lower-income folk, dependent on wood, coal, charcoal, paraffin etc – may have to expend energy walking to collect their (probably heavy) cooking-fuel supply. Though their utensils and appliances undoubtedly are fewer, they have an energy intensive cooking process to go through – stirring pots full of food over an open fire is not for sissies! And water for cooking and cleaning the pots might have had to be collected from distant sources too – more human energy.

And while we’re involved in this energy-intensive process of obtaining / creating food for ourselves and our families, our personal energy flags, our children might get fractious. ‘Mum, Mum, come and see this!’ ‘Not now, Darling, I’m busy cooking.’ Could we do things differently – with the minimum of fuss and energy?

I was lucky enough to be exposed to solar cooking and to meet the driver of the Sunstove Organisation, Margaret Bennett, some years back. Her stoves are the result of a job creation project that she founded – way back in 1993. The stoves themselves are largely made of recycled materials – recycled plastic for the moulded outer casing, recycled printer plates for the reflective innards. The layer between is currently made from fiberglass material, but recycled polystyrene is starting to look like a possible alternative. Then the only non-recycled component will be the polycarbonate lid. Over the years, her organization has manufactured and distributed more than 15 000 Sunstoves. They can be found through the length and breadth of Africa. Visit their web site.


Many’s the person therefore who can thank her for freeing up time and energy for purposes other than cooking. Myself included. Take 1 cloudless day, mix up the ingredients for your Christmas cake, put the mixture in a black pot in your north-facing Sunstove and voila 5 hours or so later you have the real McCoy – but no hot kitchen, no stove running for hours on end and no electricity cost.

And what a boon in the case of soups, casseroles and veg dishes – put the whole or coarsely-chopped ingredients in your black pot, with a little water if necessary, face the cooker north when you leave for work in the morning, and return at the end of the day to a perfectly scrumptious hot dinner – cooked slowly and retaining all its goodness. Potjie perfection. Only 1 pot to clean up, wipe the day’s dust off the lid of the Sunstove, and there’s time to spare. Time to read, spend it with your family and friends, take a walk.

If it’s a non-mess braai alternative you’re after – set-up your parabolic solar stove – chops, steaks, wors and sosaties cook to perfection. No charcoal, no firelighters, no waiting for the coals to reach the exact right temperature – just good old sun! I guess you can see that I’m hooked! The occasional day in Gauteng when the sun doesn’t make an appearance makes me feel cheated. All that old-fashioned sweating over a hot stove just doesn’t do it for me.

Yes, the to-ing and fro-ing to buy the ingredients remains, unless of course you’ve joined the swelling numbers of people growing their own veggies. But that’s another story for another time.

© Sue Bellinger, May 2009

Cut Carbon. Dare to Change!


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