Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven ~ Part 1: Why Go Solar?

The closer I get to living in alignment with my values of a healthy, environmentally-sustainable and socially-just lifestyle, the more I realize my life revolves around producing, obtaining, and preparing food.

solar_oven_glory

Solar-cooking 2 pots of spiced lentils and rice for a potluck at the Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence. ‘Twas a hit!

I strive to know where my food comes from and how it was grown, and to eat meals that are delicious and even indulgent, yet have the maximum benefit for my physical and mental health and my energy levels. To do this in a way that is affordable means cooking much of our food “from scratch.” It can be a lot of work but also extremely satisfying, and since food is one of the few things we need to survive, it seems worthwhile to do it right. This goes for not just the food itself, but also for our cooking processes.

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Cooking on a camp stove in our mobile kitchen, on BLM land in Utah. 

 

Spending the summer living off-the-grid in a mobile tiny house (pictured above), we cooked primarily with a 2-burner propane camp stove, and now we’re living in an off-the-grid house with a propane stove. Propane is one of our few housing-related expenses since we don’t pay for electricity (100% solar) or water (100% rainwater catchment), and we’re eager to cut back on our propane consumption.

We cooked with natural gas for years at our last house, but now that we actually buy each canister of propane—rather than just paying a monthly utilities bill that comes directly out of our bank account and lumps together gas and electric use, making it easy to ignore—we know exactly how much propane we’re using. And now that we live in Colorado’s fracking country, the impacts of industrial natural gas (as opposed to NG from small-scale biogas digesters) are impossible to ignore.

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Dangers of Fracking for Natural Gas

A solar oven seemed like a simple, economically and environmentally-friendly alternative to cooking with propane or natural gas.

solar_cooking_diagramSolar ovens and solar cookers use passive solar technology, usually some sort of black box with metal reflectors, to concentrate the sun’s heat onto whatever you’re cooking. If it’s sunny outside, over the course of the day—or sometimes just a few hours—you can cook a variety of foods this way: stews, grains, meats, roasted vegetables, granola, hard-“boiled” eggs, and even cakes and other baked goods! Of course this means you have to plan ahead; solar-cooking is slow food, not fast food.

We already plan many of our meals in advance because we eat a lot of grains and beans which we like to soak or sprout to make them easier to digest and the nutrients more accessible. So for us, the biggest barrier to solar cooking was not lack of convenience, but simply that building our own solar cooker seemed a bit daunting (to me, at least).

This article is Part 1 in a 4-part series: Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven. The rest of the series is linked below:

Part 2: Choosing a Solar Oven

Part 3: Cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven

Part 4: Recipes & Tips for Solar Cooking

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