An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 23, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

    FIREWOOD & SOLAR COOKERS

Within the last couple of weeks someone has taken a truck or 4x4 down the very eroded, rocky trail into the arroyo, then driven on the arroyo bed for half a mile or so before it got too rough. Judging from hacked snags along the arroyo's banks, whoever ventured there probably was collecting firewood. They must have had a devil of a time getting their vehicle back out. They'd scraped high rocks with their chassis, and their tires had slid sideways for a long way on loose gravel banks. They must have valued firewood very highly to have invested such an effort in getting it like this.

But, solar ovens can cook and provide warmth. Therefore, in that rain-shadow valley where 95% of the days year round are sunny, where nothing more than scorching, unrelenting sunlight imparts character to the land, why is it that replacing firewood with solar cookers simply isn't being considered? You mention solar cookers and people say that yes they've heard about them, they sound fantastic, they want to try them, and then if you push the issue the response is: Get real. We've always used firewood, we use firewood now and we'll keep using firewood. These far-out concepts are fine for people like you but we have to live in the real world.

solar cooker

Since most of our days in Jalpan are sunny and on sunny days I cook my meals in the small, simple solar oven shown above, my healthy body is living proof that solar cookers work. Therefore, why don't people in sunny areas where firewood is hard to get and energy is needed so badly at least make an effort to set up solar ovens?

One reason is that an oven of the kind I'm using here may cost $15 or $20 and if you're really poor -- as some firewood-using people here are -- you just never have that kind of money extra. However, probably most families around Camargo do have that kind of money. I'll bet that the fellow who took his pickup truck into the arroyo for firewood ends up spending more than $20 just on parts to repair his truck after the trip.

It's easy to think that people don't use solar cookers because they're so stuck in their traditional lives that they can't really change. Yet, here I see plenty of folks more than happy to abandon some of the most deeply rooted, traditional features of their lives. Nothing can be more traditional to Mexican life than the tortilla, yet I see again and again that as soon as a family has enough money they give up tortillas for much less nutritional and flavorful white bread -- here appropriately called Pan Bimbo, or Bimbo Bread.

So, why are tortillas so easy to abandon, but solar ovens so hard to accept?

I think it's mostly this: People on TV and in glossy magazines don't eat tortillas. They eat white bread, and we know this because Pan Bimbo advertisements show fancy people eating white bread and, in fact, very few TV people do eat tortillas.

As I've said in the past, if anyone is to save us, it well may be the artists among us -- they who can manage the media in a way that slips concepts for sustainable living into a people's collective consciousness painlessly and unnoticed.

The difficult part of the equation is that selling white bread makes money that can be used to pay artists to make slick ads for stuff like white bread, but using solar cookers just saves the Earth, making no one rich. Facebook Icon.