Photo Source: Solar Cookers World Network
Storing cooking fuel for various situations such as electricity outages is one of the weakest parts of my preparedness plans. I currently store and rotate through multiple large canisters of propane for use with my grill. I have plastic buckets full of charcoal for my dutch oven and apple-box oven. But there are limits on how much propane I can legally store. And I can't possibly store large enough quantities of charcoal. So, I've been exploring the merits of solar cooking to expand my options.
There are a lot of commercial products available for solar cooking. Unfortunately these products are often quite expensive. The amazing thing I've discovered, is that you can often get the same results with as little as $3 and not much more work on your part.
I want to direct you to two fabulous sites on solar cooking. Both sites have resulted from efforts to improve cooking situations for women in Africa and South America. The first is a wiki (http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Plans) with many solar cooking designs. It includes plans for elaborate solar cookers to simple homemade solar cookers that can be just as or more effective.
This second site (http://solarcooking.org/plans/funnel.htm) gives the plans for an effective solar stove developed by Dr. Steven Jones, a BYU physics professor. The part I love most about the link on Dr. Jones' page is that he includes a chart with estimated cooking times (it is about 3/4 down the page).
Here are two other links by Dr. Jones on solar cooking (for some reason this site is not easily navigable):
My favorite? The Windshield Shade Solar Cooker developed by Kathy Dahle-Bredine (found on the Solar Wiki). This cooker is almost identical to Dr. Jones' design except it uses a reflective windshield shade instead. I'm eager to have something that can withstand water a bit better than Mylar-covered cardboard, so this is the design I've opted to pursue.
Making one of these solar cookers is my current project right now. I've already been to my guaranteed-to-have-one-of-everything store with a list of products. Unfortunately they didn't have the one fundamental item that I needed - the reflective windshield shade. So my next try will be at an automotive shop. I already have cooking bags and cooling racks on hand. I'm also looking for a black pot for under $10 that is approximately 5 quarts or less. I've seen a 7.5 quart pan for $12, but it seems too big. The cheapest "pan" option is actually a black-painted canning jar. I'd prefer something a little more durable if possible, but I am intrigued by the "pressurizing" potential when using canning lids (see Dr. Jones' design).
Watch for an update on my solar cooker once I get the supplies and give it a try.
In the book The Road written by Cormac McCarthy, a father and son travel through a ravaged post-apocalyptic world. Over and over the son asks his father, "Are we still the good guys?" This question is posed in extremely difficult situations which include making the choice to share food and possibly go hungry themselves. Clearly many characters are no longer good guys, but have abandoned their humanity with completely selfish actions, some of which are beyond imagination. Others, despite their realizations of the consequences, reach out anyway. The father, with his heart full of the desire to save his son, struggles throughout the book with the questions of how to act - with selfishness or with compassion. And his son over and over helps him to remember that goodness and humanity is the answer.
Lately, as I've browsed the news, I been both thrilled with the unselfish actions of the good guys and simultaneously disappointed in extremely selfish actions of others. I look at the ravaged neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Sendai, Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand and read of looting1 and exploitation. From preparedness sources, I read about individuals who claim they won't need food storage because they have guns and plan to take it3. I read of plans to loot, steal and hide2 resources from fellow neighbors if tough circumstances arise. Thankfully, in contrast, I see individuals with destroyed homes and lives setting their own needs aside and helping neighbors who are worse off. I hear of the poorest families sacrificing their own funds to help a little in these disaster areas. I hear of families storing extra so they will be able to help their neighbors if needed.
I'm not so naive as to think that there aren't people out there that will continue to act without humanity regardless of what I think and say. I also recognize the need for me to provide for and protect my family in difficult circumstances. But what is survival without humanity? If sharing and helping others meant my family would starve? Well, I would much rather have the last acts of my life be ones of compassion and charity rather than of selfishness, greed, and violence.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I look closely at the example of Jesus Christ. His life was full of compassion and love despite knowing his death would ultimately result from those actions. He was definitely one of the good guys.
I encourage you in your preparedness plans and in your home-storage plans to plan with compassion rather than selfishness and to plan with love instead of greed.
And make sure that you ask yourself over and over and over again, "Are we still the good guys?"
1 - http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42834400/ns/weather/
2 - Sorry, not going to post the links and add traffic or credence to these sites.
3 - http://www.survivalblog.com/2011/04/two_letters_re_confronting_tho.html