Sarah Collins is a wonder-woman. Not because she wears a costume (though she has been known to use old wedding dresses to great effect), it's because her work combating hunger and trying to empower a generation of women around the world is getting headlines. Her method: the Wonderbag. As Collins deftly puts it, “The world wants change.” She’s working on it.
The device, a round pouch filled with repurposed foam chips from the furniture and mattress manufacturing trade, is covered in fabric designed by local fashion and textile designers. The purpose of the Wonderbag is simple: to cook food. What it cooks is pretty much anything that can be made in a pot from yoghurt to grains to stews. Part slow-cooker, part fashion accessory, the device cooks ingredients for up to 8 hours without the need for extra heat thanks to the insulating properties of the foam chips.
This is high-tech meets low-tech. Indeed, Collins very much sees herself as a tech entrepreneur. Slow cooking technology has been around for centuries, but this 21st-Century re-envisioning stems from social rather than economic or scientific drivers. It speaks to the need for society to be better in tune with its environment, support women’s roles in the community and create economic incentives for supporting social change.
How can one small bag achieve these goals? Over its lifetime each $50 Wonderbag saves:
1,000 liters of water;
1,248 hours of cooking time;
Children from premature deaths linked to smoke-inhalation from wood fires;
Women from being raped while collecting firewood. A staggering 82% of female rapes in Africa occur in this way.
On top of being distributed locally to those in need, Wonderbags can be purchased on Amazon or WonderbagWorld.com. Each time someone in the US purchases a bag, a family in Africa gets one for free. That’s a small price to pay for a lot of good. To date 700,000 bags have been sold through retailers in the US, UK, South Africa, the Netherlands, France and Turkey. That’s only the start; Collins’ ambitious goal is to get 200 million families out of poverty by 2020.
At first glance it might seem tenuous to say Wonderbags can save families from poverty. However, the reality is in countries where women’s roles are still firmly segregated from their male counterparts, the act of cooking is also one of bondage. Time spent collecting fuel or food for cooking prevents women from using this time for other activities such as education or running their own business. Children are the unintended victims too; with 50% of premature deaths linked to smoke inhalation from cooking fires. The Wonderbag, which is light and easy to carry, requires no fuel and cooks food for long periods without the need to constantly check on it. These factors give time back to women and their families. As women reinvest this time into their own development, the economics of sexual segregation and ultimately inequality start to change. Families can benefit both economically and psychologically from women in new ways.
Beyond its main goal, the Wonderbag is also making waves in culinary and fashion circles. From eco chic NY design labels to Parisian chef ateliers this invention is making an appearance. Rather than being used for its commercial appeal, though Collins’ success with the product is a lesson in brand development 101, the main reason is both social and culinary. A legion of French chefs now use the Wonderbag to bring a tradition of slow pressure-cooker cuisine into the 21st Century. Fashion brands, socially-minded musicians and more see this trendy device as their way to give back to the world.
Millennial-makers everywhere are taking a stand for women in whatever field they do best. As for me, I’m just enjoying experimenting with recipes such as “Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup” and “Sticky Syrup Pudding.” As for Sarah Collins, she’s still working wonders.
WonderbagWorld: Learn more about the Wonderbag, find recipes and become part of a global community driving change for women.
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Featured Vegan Recipe: CURRIED CAULIFLOWER SOUP
Source: Cookie & Katie blog, adapted by Vickie Shaw
SERVES: 4 PEOPLE
PREP TIME: 20 MIN
STOVE TOP TIME: 25 MIN
WONDERBAG TIME: 2 HRS
Curried Cauliflower Soup is the perfect way to add some spice into your everyday vegetarian or vegan meals. This easy, creamy soup is hearty and can be amped up using a variety of toppings.
- 1 large head cauliflower, broken into small florets, stems chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 small lemon, zested
½ cup white cooking wine
1 ½ cups vegetable broth or stock
1- 14 oz can light coconut milk
½ tsp sugar
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
thinly sliced hot peppers
- Heat olive oil in 4-6 quart pot. Add cauliflower and coat. Brown for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a dash of salt, turn to low and cover for approximately 15 minutes.
Remove lid and turn back to medium. Remove 1 cup of cauliflower florets to use as a topping and set aside. Add melted coconut oil and onions, sauté for 5 minutes. Add the curry paste and lemon zest and stir to incorporate. Add the wine, and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has evaporated. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk and sugar. Stir and bring soup to a boil for 5 minutes.
Place the lidded pot into your Wonderbag and seal for 2 hours. After set time, remove pot from bag, stir in rice vinegar and blend mixture using a hand blender or immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To Serve: Ladle into soup bowls. Top with warm cauliflower florets, a sprinkle of basil, green onions and hot peppers.
Tip: If you like your soup heartier, prepare using 2 heads of cauliflower and remove 3 cups of florets to use as toppings.