I think not truck loads of firewood but truck loads of money would be burnt wastefully.
Posted on November 29th, 2011

Dr Hector Perera  London

 Any energy saving ideas?

 When I recently visited Sri Lanka, I met so many interesting people at different places such as in small shops and in a few supermarkets. I also met two Principals of two leading girls’ schools in Gampaha, Rev Sister Mary Deepani at Holy Cross College and Mrs Hema Jayawardena   at Ranavali Balika Vidyalaya.

 I talked to them over the phone, send faxes and emailed before I went to Sri Lanka and they had a clear idea about my aim. They welcomed me any time to teach some of their school children about my scientific energy saving cooking but the time was too tight. I can safely say the present younger generation would hardly use firewood in time to come.

One of my aims was to find out what they know about cooking, the type of energy they used and any ideas about energy saving techniques. Once we were having lunch at the rest house in Gampaha then I asked one of the waiters as well, how they cooked rice and curries. He said a full time cook is employed to make meals for the people come there on regular basis. He said mainly firewood was used but gas cooker was to make quick and simple things only. In his conversation he didn’t know any energy saving ideas.

At a takeaway place in Bellantara road Dehiwala, I met the owner of the place then also the cook. He said that he had no cooking qualifications but he had years of experience. I tasted the food was quite tasty, palatable. No wonder many people visited the place either to eat in or takeaway. I asked the kind of energy used, he said mainly firewood but occasionally gas was used for making fried rice and Chinese food. I am sure if the science of food was put forward in simple terms that would be understood. I talked about the volatility of different oils and chemicals in the food, am glad to say he admitted there are chemicals in the food although he has no science education. If he understood my explanations it should be good enough and simple enough for other ordinary people as well. 

 How did they cook?

 I was interested to find out how they cooked their daily meals at homes. I met lots of supermarkets shop assistant ladies and gentlemen at the newly opened Cargills supermarket in Dehiwala. I raised a few questions, one of them was, how did they cook rice? A few told me, they used a rice cooker but not cooked on gas or firewood. A few told they used firewood because; gas was an expensive commodity mainly for the well off people.

I asked a few of them to explain how they cooked rice on either gas fire or on firewood. The aim was to find out the technique in order to improve their efficiency. I explained my technique if gas was used for cooking. One of them told me to put the rice in an earthenware pot and placed on firewood. They used various kinds of firewood either from the back garden or buy some such as rubber, coconut or cinnamon firewood. When it boils over, opened the lid to avoid the fire get extinguished then after a while put the lid back. Later used a long handled wooden stick to dip into the rice pot, to check the water content. If the end of the stick shows any signs of water then kept a few minutes until it got cooked. I recollected, many years ago even my mum used this method at home.

 Any technique to avoid burning rice?

Then I asked how they knew for certain it doesn’t form burned rice or forms dankuda. They told me that there was no other technique other than checking the sogginess of the rice by opening it several times to check by this long handled spoon. According to me this is wastage of energy and a tedious technique. Every time it is opened, plenty of energy is lost but these people never thought about the energy loss. They had no idea of energy saving. Only a few experienced people can do this kind of cooking. No wonder some houses employed a dedicated person called kussi amma or a servant woman whose place is nothing but the kitchen.

Every time they opened the pot of rice, there is an energy loss, there is a variation of temperature gradient because of this, some rice at the bottom may be cooked but the one at the middle half and the top shows uncooked rice. Some people then add some cold water then cook again. No wonder it goes pear shaped and the “nona in the house” showered kussi amma with loads of shouting, after all this hard work. Is this the reason now most of them gone abroad?

 Aluminium pots and earthenware pots and pans

Earthenware pots are classed as bad conductors, only metals are good conductors of heat. Some people used aluminium pots for cooking, rice and also for cooking curries. The reason they used aluminium cooking pots is they are cheap and lighter to handle. I asked some people what they knew about thermal capacity after explaining it in simple terms. The ones I met had no idea about this scientific term. I know it for sure there are acidic and alkaline nature of foods and by nature aluminium reacts with acids as well as with alkali, for that we call it amphoteric nature of aluminium. I have research papers to prove that the consumption of aluminium is not healthy and one of the Sri Lankan Chemistry Professors from Kelaniya University Dr Janitha Liyanage also wrote an article to Daily News about the dangers of aluminium for human consumption. It said it contributes to a disease called Alzheimer disease or forgetfulness as the time goes on.

Some people told me that they use aluminium pots and pans for cooking because there is no other choice for cheaper and lighter cooking vessels. I saw in the market, they sell cheap stainless steel cooking pots and pans with a plating of copper at the bottom. In my view, it’s not the kind of stainless steel pots and pans due to my scientific arguments. I have no objection if someone used any kind of pots and pans for cooking but for scientific reasons they are not the ones I would choose. We also used earthenware pots and aluminium pans for frying in our homes but now I am looking at them for any improvements, save energy, save time spent in the kitchens. I know it for sure some people spend nearly three hours to make a meal. In my method it would be a complete change.

 Food is tastier when cooked in earthenware pots?

 Some people argued that the food cooked in earthenware pots and pans are tastier for no apparent reason. I asked them the reason but couldn’t come out with an answer. I was wondering are there any secret chemicals come from these pots, from the clay to make the food tastier? We already added the ingredients in making chicken or lentil curry, I am sure they do not expect any secret ingredients to come from these non metal earthenware pots and pans to make the food tastier.

 Contacted the Energy Authority

As soon as I came there, not only those two schools, I contacted the Sustainable Energy Authority Director and personally visited him with an appointment.

When I met him in person, I requested them to come over to a place in Colombo where I have these facilities for an energy saving cooking demonstration. He verbally agreed and fixed a date as well. I waited but they never made it to my utter disappointment. Then I talked to the Director General Dr Thusitha over the phone then he said that he was prepared to come over any time but left the arrangements with the Director Mr Ranjith. For one reason or the other, I didn’t have a chance to demonstrate my technique. I admit that these things can happen; perhaps they were too busy with other burning issues other than burning gas wastefully.

 Truck loads of money would be burnt

I have a feeling that Sri Lankans would be burning truck loads of money on gas due to carelessness and ignorance until such time that I or someone else show them how to save gas scientifically.

 TNL interview on the web

I was fortunate to go on TNL Television interview for a discussion about my energy saving cooking. The interview lasted nearly half an hour with lots of cross examination from the interviewer and I answered them quite confidently.  It was broadcasted on 10th November 2011 around 7.30 pm then it would appear in their web site as well, any comments welcomed [email protected]

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