Micah Weiss shows off summertime hot food cooked in the WonderBag. Photo: Betsy Teutsch
Hi everyone! I have an awesome guest poster here today. I met her a few months ago and was very taken with her idea to change the world but more her ACTIONS to change the world. I bought an iron fish from her book that will now help my friend with anemai AND a family in an underpriviliged country stay healthy. What’s better than that? Please buy this book and the inexpensive life-changing products in it to help the world :-).
Nearly two billion women cook their daily meals over open flames. These might look like nostalgic kumbaya campfires replete with s’mores, but they are actually highly toxic, posing immense health risks, for the cooks, their children underfoot, and the planet. Foraging for fuel is, somewhat mysteriously, a gendered task, the domain of girls and women. Cooking over a classic three-stone fire requires endless sticks and logs, denuding forests.
The time spent on wood gathering is time not spent on more productive pursuits. For girls, it often means missing out on school. For adult women, it is an added burden on top of smallholder farming, raising children, and care-providing in general. Living with no electricity makes tasks time-consuming and arduous.
My book, 100 Under $100: Tools for Empowering Global Women, features affordable, reliable fixes, both classic and innovative, that liberate time. Many of the most impactful tools are cooking methods. We really need a cooking show that focuses on these two billion women!
One of my favorite techniques is not new, but ancient: thermal retention cooking. Based on simple thermodynamics, it utilizes a closed pot’s heat to keep on cooking itself, similar to a crockpot. An old method is to dig a pit, put a boiling pot of thick stew in it, cover it, and a few hours later, when the farming crew is ready for a hearty lunch, dish out steaming portions.
As a devoted eco-activist, I am always looking for ways, however micro, to chisel away at my shamefully huge carbon footprint. A Chinese version of the fireless cooker, the off-fire reboiling pot is used for rice. All one needs for fireless cooking is a heavy, fairly full pot of dense food and insulation. I grabbed some old towels to cover the pot once the water and rice were at a boil. I turned off the burner, and came back, a half hour later, to cooked rice. Really, try it.
Sarah Collins, a brilliant South African social entrepreneur, reintroduced her grandmother’s fireless cooking in the form of the WonderBag, a cheerful, floppy insulated cooker all ready to go. For each purchase of a Wonderbag, one is donated to a low-income family. The benefits are enormous:
Huge savings on cooking fuel. Radically less wood is consumed—in fact, WonderBags have qualified for carbon offset funding
Girls’ and women’s time is saved to be used more productively
Health improvements, from slashing smoke exposure
Quick cleaning: no food is burned, hence no pots need scouring, and the pots’ exteriors are free of soot, too
No food is wasted, see above
Jobs are created
No additional heat is added to the cooking space
My WonderBag was a gift. I use it almost every Friday, autumn through spring, when I make soup for our Sabbath dinner. I prepare the ingredients in the early afternoon and, when the pot is at a full boil, I stick a tortilla warming stone in my microwave for a minute. I place it in the Wonderbag to preheat it, and then tuck the boiling pot on top of it, tighten the ties, and go about my business.
I get a huge kick out of opening the pot, several hours later, revealing steaming hot, perfectly cooked yellow lentil, split pea, or mushroom barley soup. Good for the planet, good for the recipient of your twin WonderBag, and great for you, your family, and your guests!
Betsy Teutsch is the author of 100 Under $100: Tools for Empowering Global Women. These same tools can help us all shrink our carbon footprints.