Picture this: You want to cook a meal. In the US, this is an easy enough proposition, if occasionally tiring. You take a trip to the grocery store, prep your ingredients, and leave them to cook, whether in an oven, on a stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Before too long, you sit down and eat. Simple, right?
In rural Africa, no such luck. For many women, making a meal is a long, costly process fraught with danger. Every day, women across the continent spend up to seven hours collecting firewood to use for cooking, walking between 3 and 6 miles, taking away time that could be spent working or bonding with family members, and risking sexual assault and attacks by animals along the way. Those who don’t collect firewood often cook with charcoal, a fuel that eats up a sizable chunk of a rural family’s income—think along the lines of one third. The actual cooking takes hours, and the use woodfuels combined with that of an open flame contributes to potentially deadly levels of indoor air pollution. In providing for their families, these women make sacrifices that are unimaginable to many, risking their health and livelihood for the sake of a single meal. A trip to a packed Trader Joe’s at 6 o’clock on a Tuesday pales in comparison.
For South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins, this was a key problem. Her lifelong mission to empower rural Africans has manifested in many types of work, from conservation to political action, but perhaps her most meaningful contribution has been the invention of the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, also known as the Wonderbag. Now available for purchase from UncommonGoods, Sarah’s slow cooker—made from patterned cotton fabric stuffed with repurposed foam—keeps food brought to a boil cooking for up to 12 hours simply by trapping heat. For every Non-Electric Slow Cooker purchased in the developed world, another is donated to the Wonderbag Foundation, an organization that distributes Sarah’s invention to communities in need throughout Africa. Because the Non-Electric Slow Cooker doesn’t require an open flame to keep food cooking, it reduces pollution and deforestation throughout Africa and keeps rural women and families safer and healthier, freeing up their time and money for work, play, and family bonding.
As a certified B Corp, UncommonGoods is committed to offering sustainable, socially responsible products. When we first heard about the Non-Electric Slow Cooker, we were intrigued—we’d never heard of a slow cooker made out of foam! Once we learned of its impressive effect in Africa, though, we knew we needed to hear more from its inventor. Read on for more of Sarah’s story—including advice on how to contribute to her mission, even from afar.
It is officially fall, almost winter actually, which means TIME FOR SOUP. What is better than the combination of crisp air and the smell of soup bubbling on the stove? Nothing, you say? I agree!
As a frequent maker of soups, I’m very interested in anything that can make my soups more delicious or the process of making them easier. Thus, the Soup Pot Flavor Infuser was immediately intriguing to me. I’ve used bouquet garni in the past, and I’ve wrapped herbs in cheese cloth, but this item seemed like a more sustainable way to add flavor to my soup, and also get rid of the problem of having to locate something and fish it out of the finished pot. Additionally, I thought perhaps I could save some of the time I usually spend stripping fresh herbs off their stem and finely chopping them by just putting entire stems into the infuser and not worrying about accidentally taking a bite of something decidedly un-tasty.
Speaking of herbs, anyone who uses fresh herbs regularly knows the pain of buying a bundle of gorgeous fresh herbs only to find that there’s no possible way to use them all before they get brown and sad and suited only for the compost bin. I’ve been eagerly anticipating trying out our Stainless Steel Produce Keeper to see if I can start making the most of my thyme (see what I did there?)
I’m a known dumpling lover. I’ve always wanted to make ravioli, because 1) it’s a form of dumplings, 1a) dumplings are the best, 2) it’s delicious, and 3) pre-made ravioli seems too expensive for what it is, and 4) the one time I did I buy store-bought ravioli, it was suuuuper suboptimally subpar. As my mom says, “The dough gets leather-y.”
While preparing for a holiday feast, Hipatia Lopez found herself facing 100 empanadas that needed closing. She may have finished the project with sore hands, but it gave her the idea to invent the Empanada Fork, a tool that closes empanadas, turnovers, and pastries in no time.
While many of our Studio Tours give readers a look inside creative spaces of makers of handmade goods, Hipatia’s story is a little different–and must-read for anyone who’s ever thought-up a problem-solving product, but isn’t sure what to do next. Hipatia wasn’t trained as a product designer and didn’t have a line of inventions to her name, but she was motivated. She knew she was on to something, and decided to take the next step and turn her idea into the real deal.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to physically travel to Hipatia’s home in New Jersey to learn about her process, but through phone calls, emails, and snapshots, Hipatia helped me create a virtual tour of her creative space (and kitchen).
As the Inventory Planner for our Tabletop category, I am usually one of the first to get a sneak peek at the new items being added to our assortment of kitchen and cooking tools. When NéQuana, our tabletop buyer, showed me the Flipside Stovetop Grill, she thankfully noticed when my eyes lit up and offered to let me take it for a spin.
I’m a lifelong New Yorker, which means not only do I not currently have my own outdoor space, I have never had my own outdoor space. I dream of one day having a space to grill outside, but given that that time is still in the future (and that even when it happens, there will still be winters), a grill pan has been on my kitchen wish list for a while. I was particularly drawn to the Flipside Stovetop Grill because it is wide enough to cover two burners, and being able to cook in larger batches is always appealing to me – doing multiple rounds in the same pan is a pain, messy, and the first batch gets cold while subsequent batches are being cooked. When it was pointed out to me that the “Flipside” of the grill pan acts as a griddle, I was sold. It came home with me that very night.
MY LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.
I’m pushing thirty years old. I know that my favorite type of people are the salt of the Earth, my favorite character in Willy Wonka is Veruca Salt, my favorite hip-hop group is Salt-N-Pepa, my favorite ancient instrument is the psaltery, my favorite town is Basalt, Colorado, and both my favorite taffy and crocodile, are salt water; yet I haven’t the slightest idea what region my favorite salt hails from. One day at the UncommonGoods campus, I voiced this issue over fresh fruit and went back to my desk to find our Salts of the World Test Tube Set. Thanks to the support of my UncommonGoods’ Team, I’m determined to determine the whereabouts of a favorite salt.
Product: Kabob Maker
When we saw the Kabob Maker, we were interested in testing it out, because you can make meat and vegetable skewers IN THE MICROWAVE! We wanted to see how true this was and if they would be fully cooked and taste good.
The kit comes with the Kabob Maker, 40 wooden skewers, and an instruction booklet. We first read through the booklet (English directions start on page 10 and recipes start on page 38). Before reading the recipes, we had an idea of what foods we wanted to try. We wanted to test poultry, something dense/firm, along with something soft. With this in mind, we purchased chicken, mushrooms, potatoes, eggplant, and green peppers.