"Raw food movement" aside, most of us can't live without cooking our food. Meat can make you sick if it's not cooked to the proper temperature, and so can water if you live in a place without a clean drinking-water source, as millions of people do.
But cooking has its own drawbacks: gas and electric ranges consume, on average, 700 kWh per year, which translates to about 940 pounds (426 kilograms) of CO2 in the air [sources: NRC, DOE]. And both charcoal and wood cooking releases harmful gasses and particulates, making open flames and barbecues an environmental and health hazard.
Solar ovens, on the other hand, use the sun to cook food. Pure and simple.
The simplest solar oven, known as a box cooker, is nothing more than some cardboard, black paint, glass and perhaps some sheets of aluminum foil to act as reflectors to catch more sunlight. This solar cooker is like a heat-capturing bread box: You put a pot of food inside, close the glass, and put the whole box in the sun. The sun's radiation gets trapped in the box, heating up everything inside to temperatures hot enough to fry food (see How Solar Cooking Works to learn more).
A solar oven is hands-down the greenest way to cook outside, whether it's a backyard barbecue or a camping trip or the primary cooking method in a rural African village.
You can buy one online for anywhere from $50 to $300, or you can make one at home for much less. You'll find plans all over the Web, including here:
- Backwoods Home: Making and using a solar cooker
- Ecobites: DIY Solar Cooker
- The Solar Cooking Archive: Build a Solar Cooker
For more information on solar-powered gadgets and related topics, look over the links on the next page.