Day 14 – Choices

Way back in the good old days when I liked to have fun, we took the family to Six Flags in Arlington. The kids were young and of various sizes, and as adults Mara and I had different tastes in rides. We rode some coasters, the kids got on when they were tall enough, and when we just couldn’t take the heat anymore we rode that weird water cave ride with the ugly trolls and the air conditioning.

We had choices, and sometimes we wanted one thing but had to chose another. Such is the nature of life. Our approach to providing clean cooking resources is the same, and it does not end with solar ovens and improved cookstoves. There are many other inventive ways to save on fuel for our Cook, and saving fuel means saving money and keeping that much more smoke out of the air. Some even save time, which we know has a value all it’s own.

One of my favorite tools in the kitchen nowadays is the pressure cooker. Yep, just like grandma used to use. They have fallen out of favor in the US, for reasons unknown to me, although there is a small resurgence with the advent of electric pressure cookers. Our focus in Latin America will be on the stove top type, for obvious reasons. Here’s an interesting fact, pressure cooker use is so high in India that families often have three or four different models, and they use them every day for every meal. People even align themselves with one or another of the predominant brands, much like we do with Coke and Pepsi. What’s so special about pressure cookers, you might ask? Well, they save both time and fuel, and quite a lot of both. Beans are a very cook candidate for the pressure cooker, and you can make a pot of beans in as little as 25 minutes depending on the variety, and save 50 – 75% on your fuel use in the process. That just saved Cook almost two hours of fuel and time.

Choices, and options. Just like putting a 4 year old on the Texas Giant isn’t really an option, sometimes our Cooks simply can’t afford a solar oven or rocket stove just yet. This is where our secondary technologies come in, like the pressure cooker. They are less expensive, and can help put Cook on the path to a cleaner, smoke free kitchen today instead of tomorrow. But even our inexpensive pressure cooker has cultural barriers. They are available in some Latin markets, but their use is limited. Much like the poorly designed chimney stoves gave a bad experience to some cooks, older pressure cookers tended to, you guessed it, explode. Modern pressure cookers overcome this tendency with several safety features, but the cooks still have to get reacquainted with them. This is one of the roles Pasqual hopes to fill, educating cooks not only on rocket stoves and solar ovens, but on the whole range of available options.

The next option on our menu is called a heat retention cooker, basically a low tech crock pot. Using our pot of beans as an example, one would begin the cooking process just like normal, but when you get to the simmering part (the longest, most fuel consuming part) you just take the pot off the stove and put it in the insulated bag. Since the pot leaves the stove at boiling temperature, it has enough stored energy to complete the cooking process as long the heat can be retained. This, again, saves our cook fuel and the time she would have spent tending the cooking process, and keeps more smoke out of the air.

The last option we will discuss today is a little different, the induction cooktop. They have several forms, the one we are dealing with is the smaller, portable model. If our cook has access to electricity, can afford it, and has appropriate cookware, these make a lot of sense. They are more efficient and less dangerous than the open coil type, do not require any complicated installation, are portable, and don’t have the high recurrent cost of replacing empty propane cylinders. While one can debate whether they are more carbon friendly than other methods, this point is somewhat irrelevant if eliminating smoke from the kitchen is on the table.

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And this brings me back to the point of building an effective business model. Well made chimney planchas, like the Zoom Plancha, simply cost more than a pressure cooker. This mean that some people can’t afford them right now, but if they can afford a pressure cooker then they become a customer. One reason that stove producers find it hard to establish a presence in a region is that they are selling a product that not everyone can afford. So, sell some things they can afford along with the higher ticket items and you have yourself a self-supporting model.

But, I want to stress this right now, Pasqual is not seeking to establish stores. Our first goal is to research the feasibility of establishing a cooperative logistical, educational, and support chain, the outcome of which will be more affordable cooking products, the education on why and how to use them, and the support network to keep our Cook healthy long after she has her new stove. This research will determine what final form these should take.

Whew, another long day. But the story isn’t complete yet, keep coming back for more tomorrow.

To be continued…

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