Paul Munsen, of Elburn, Ill., has traveled the world selling his Sun Ovens.
In Afghanistan, he taught a group of women how to prepare and preserve the food they grow.
“At harvest time, they sell to Pakistanis at the lowest price,” he said, because they’re all selling at the same time. “The Pakistanis put it in storage, and sell it later at the highest prices.”
When he mentioned that solar ovens can be used to dehydrate foods, the women asked for a demonstration.
“We made a simple rack out of window screen,” he said. “We made some sun-dried tomatoes.”
With that knowledge, they were able to store their own food for winter, and trade among themselves, instead of being at the mercy of the market. Sun ovens also allowed them to save much of the money they would normally spend on cooking fuel.
“You don’t see a stick of wood anywhere in Afghanistan,” Munsen said, so the women were buying gas for cooking. “Their entire standard of living was changed by the money they saved.”
Working with a private foundation promoting women’s projects, Munsen supplied Sun Ovens for baking and selling an Afghan flatbread called naan. That project posed an unusual problem.
“The way it’s normally made is with wood fires. Nobody liked the fresh taste of sun-cooked naan — it didn’t taste smoky,” he said. “It was a serious issue, because they didn’t think they could sell their bread.”
Munsen’s wife suggested adding a couple of drops of liquid smoke flavoring to the dough.
“I had to send 55-gallon drums of liquid smoke with the Sun Ovens,” Munsen said.
The liquid smoke offers some advantages over smoky fires. Munsen says women cooking over fires can inhale as much smoke as they’d get from smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, and children are more likely to contract acute lower respiratory and eye infections.
“Each year, 1.6 million children die from respiratory illnesses,” he said. “That’s more than die from HIV and malaria.”
A portion of sales from Munsen’s new All American Sun Oven will go toward buying extra-large Villager Sun Ovens for orphanages in Haiti. That allows them to cut one of their biggest expenses — cooking fuel — and still make 1,200 meals a day.
“And the orphanage can bake bread in their off hours to sell for income,” he said.
In Africa, where children usually learn a trade from their parents, orphans often age out of the system with no skills. Orphanages with Sun Oven bakery kits can help by getting the children involved.
“If they learned to bake bread, that gives them a skill they can use in a restaurant or bakery,” Munsen said.