When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, I find that the ideas and systems that get the most attention are always the big, expensive ones. They are always about electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines and other big ticket items which most of us can’t afford. Often the necessary work of changing how much energy we use gets lost in endless circles of ‘meta’ type discussions and nothing ever really gets done. There isn’t a lot of interesting information out there about what individuals and families can do in their real lives to reduce their personal footprints. Well intentioned people often have little to no idea about how or what they can do on a daily basis to conserve resources other than using compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycling plastic but there is so much more to do than that.
My family and I have been particularly focused on reducing our footprint, conserving resources, and living more simply for the past five years or so. Gradually we have implemented one simplifying and natural system after another with considerable success. Several months ago, my wife came across an incredible way to cook food that uses 20% - 80% less energy, increases nutrition of the food, saves time, space, money, resources, and electricity plus it lets you come home at the end of a long day to warm, well cooked food you don’t have to do anything to but serve. This way of cooking is called retained heat cooking, fireless cooking or cooking with a cook box or hay box. We use it practically every day now and it has made our lives a lot easier.
Scientifically speaking, “cooking” food is not really what most of us think it is. “Cooking” isn’t necessarily boiling or simmering food on your stove top, for instance, because technically food is being cooked whenever it is at 180° or higher. No matter what method you use to keep your food at a minimum of 180°, that food is cooking. You can accomplish this conventionally by setting your pot on a hot burner and continuously forcing heat up from the bottom of the pot over a long period of time until that food is completed cooked OR you can recognize that stove top type cooking is really done best as a two step process. In step one, you create a low insulation set-up in which you add heat to the pot and its contents until they are over 180°. In step two, you transform your set-up into a high insulation arrangement whereby that built up heat is retained in the pot so that it can proceed to cook the food gently and evenly with no additional energy input until that food is completely cooked. All the energy required for complete cooking has already been provided. You are just retaining it within the pot until it has done its work rather than allowing it to dissipate into the surrounding air. In other words, put ingredients in a pot, bring them to a boil, boil for 15 minutes or so, take the pot off the stove and then insulate it in a simple cook box or basket until the cooking cycle is completed. Depending upon what you are cooking, in anywhere from a half hour to several hours later, you can take a pot of piping hot, perfectly cooked food out of your cook box and serve it up just as it is.
My wife has just completed a 50 page e-book about this process entitled Retained Heat Cooking … The Wave of the Future Again: Discover how easy it is to make and use your own off-the-grid cook box to cook uncommonly good food of all kinds. It includes detailed instructions on how to assemble your own retained heat cook box as well as sections on the history behind this method of food preparation as well as the scientific principles behind how it works. She not only includes recipes and other cooking instructions but also a section on the importance of retained heat cooking in developing countries which are so often characterized by deforestation, shortages of potable water and grinding poverty. My family strongly believes that the resources we over-consume here has everything to do with the lack of enough resources elsewhere. So we feel happily compelled to use retained heat cooking regularly in our home as well as any other measures we can manage to reduce our load on the earth’s resources.
Putting together your own cook box can be as simple or as involved a project as you want it to be. Design specifications and ideas are in the e-book. You can make your own from boxes, baskets, drawers, or coolers and insulate with anything from hay, cardboard, or blankets to rice hulls or Styrofoam. Cook boxes are very simple to put together and can be made to fit your kitchen, your wallet and your design sense. You can probably get up and put one together right now from items lying around your house and use it to make a meal right away. That is what my wife did and we are still using that instant cook box she put together months ago. If you have a laundry basket or a similar sized box, an old comforter or sleeping bag or blankets, a few old towels and a trivet then you can can get started right now at reducing your energy bill.
While you are reducing your carbon footprint with retained heat cooking, you will be reducing your energy costs as well. Cook box cooking saves 20% - 80% of your energy costs over stove top cooking, with the most savings coming from long cooking foods like grains, beans and meats. The food in a cook box is cooked slowly over a longer period of time which is actually the most beneficial way to cook many foods. Cooking at a lower temperature preserves nutrients, releases flavor, and increases digestibility. We have learned through personal experience that food cooked by the retained heat method comes out perfectly every time with each ingredient done just right.
The only real adjustment that most people will have to make to use a cook box is to plan meals in advance and start cooking them ahead of time. In the instantaneous microwave world that we now live in, this may appear to be difficult but it really isn’t. Besides it is a small adjustment to make so you that you can help to reduce your contribution to global warming, overconsumption of water and other negative environmental damage. Any little changes many of us make can add up to big changes that can reverse our current disastrous course. All of us pitching in with such small changes is basically mandatory at this point. We are going to have to make adjustments. Making the adjustment to retained heat cooking is easy because it costs nothing to implement and makes the food taste better anyway.
In terms of our 50 page e-book, Retained Heat Cooking … the Wave of the Future Again, it is available at our Bamboo Grove Press website for $5.95. My wife is an incredible researcher and a great cook. Her e-book has all of the information you need about how and why retained heat cooking is the best available method for cooking most of your food. My wife has also released a shorter 10 page e-book about solar cooking entitled On Your Way Towards Solar Cooking:The Why’s and Wherefore’s of Solar Cooking in Brief priced at $1.99. In this book you get a brief overview of solar cooking along with over 50 links to all the information you need about solar cooking, buying a commercial cooker or building your own, solar cookbooks and more.
Please forward this post and links to these e-books to anyone you know who might be interested in cooking with a cook box, improving the taste and nutrition of their food, and reducing their carbon footprint with virtually no start-up investment. It will improve their lives and help the earth tremendously.
Below are two videos we made about our experiences with fuel efficient, retained heat cook box cooking. I hope you enjoy.
All the best,