How Frugal Food can nourish the planet…….

UK innovation body NESTA predicts that  “Innovation for Frugality” will be a major trend in 2012 introducing “a new generation of frugal innovators, frugal laboratories and frugal innovation programmes trying to maximise creative impact for the minimum expense”.   I recently caught up with an inspirational woman, Sarah Collins, who has spent the last 3 years developing her eco-friendly Wonderbag.  This product, to my mind epitomizes frugal innovation and addresses sustainability issues on so many different levels.

The Wonderbag is fabric bag insulated with recycled polystyrene, which finishes cooking a dish that has been brought to the boil on a stove, without using any additional energy. A chicken, for example, could be cooked on the stove for 15 minutes. The pot is then simply placed  in the bag,  the insulated textile lid secured  and “hey presto”, three hours later , the dish is ready. Just like magic!  Significantly, it can address fuel shortages  (and associated deforestation) and assist in reducing the incidence of respiratory diseases associated with polluting cooking stoves. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was created precisely to address this issue, recently highlighted by Hollywood actress Julia Roberts’ Guardian Environment blog. The Wonderbag also reduces time spent tending to cooking, prevents food from burning, reduces CO2 emissions and saves water. This low-carbon cooking bag is already being used in 150,000 South African households, and used 3-4 times a week, each bag is estimated to save 0.5 tonnes of carbon per year. A further 5 million bags are on order from consumer goods giant Unilever.

What is really exciting is the prospect of incorporating the Wonderbag as a Clean  Development Mechanism (CDM) project –  part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This will mean that the Wonderbag can be used as part of the official carbon credit scheme which enables businesses in developed countries to invest in low-carbon initiatives in less developed countries, in a bid to combat global warming. As a result, the Wonderbag can be sold at a heavily subsidized price. “We’re on a mission to save 8 million tonnes of carbon in 5 years. That’s the equivalent of 1.5 million flights around the world” says Wonderbag Founder Sarah Collins.

Whilst this pared back, no-frills approach to cooking has obvious and enormous potential in poor, developing countries, in many ways it is just as relevant in  floundering western economies where incomes are under pressure and family belts are being tightened. Family finances aside, the Wonderbag provides a focus for engaging in the sustainability and climate change discourse – a daily reminder of the impact that a simple product can have on using resources more efficiently and reducing CO2 emissions. It also puts a smile on your face when you open up the bag to reveal the latest culinary experiment.

March 12th marks the beginning of Climate Week  and Climate Week Cuisine is asking people to “Eat Low Carbon”. That is exactly what people are already doing when they use their Wonderbags– people who in Sarah Collins’ words are helping to save the planet “one stew at a time”.


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