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ICLEI urban food competition

6th September 2023
Electric Cooking

By Simon Batchelor (Gamos Ltd.; Loughborough University), with Steyn Hoogakker (Loughborough University) and Jacob Fodio Todd (Gamos Ltd.).

Our colleagues at ICLEI under their RISE programme, recently published the winners of The AfricanCITYFOODmonth photo competition.  There are some amazing entries from across the continent, each showcasing delicious recipes and beautiful photographs.

Cities and urban expansion is important to the MECS research.  One often thinks of Africa as a rural continent, but by next year it should be crossing the 50% urban mark – depending on how you count it; urban, peri urban, small town, market towns, farmland – complex geographical classifications.  My core point though is that the work of ICLEI and others focusing on how to prompt sustainability in cities is really important, and they take a broad and interesting approach.  One of those approaches focuses on urban food systems which need ‘bold transformation’. AfriFOODlinks creatively unlocks this transition and will drive change in 65+ cities.

The competition then was part of this, to raise awareness.  They focused on tasty food, culturally connected to the entrants.  They were looking for entries that responded to one or more of these themes.   Comfortable & Nostalgic – The recipe is from my family or friends or gives me comfort to make and eat.  Fair & Sustainable – The recipe uses ingredients that are equitably and sustainably produced or processed.  Cultural – The recipe uses indigenous or traditional ingredients, uses indigenous or traditional ways of cooking, or is part of a cultural tradition (festival, gathering, etc) and Under a dollar – Good food that’s affordable to lower-income earners.

The result are some tasty looking meals with the associated recipes.  Check them out here.

So what has this to do with MECS?  Well apart from ICLEI being a partner of MECS and us wanting to promote their work, I took the time to have a look at the recipes.  In the pictures, out of the 12 winners and shortlisted entries, you see 2 people cooking with wood – one from Nigeria is repeated and involves deep frying, and one is a barbecue grilling of meat.  From Egypt, falafel is also deep frying, and the picture shows the use of gas. 

The others are all LPG gas with the exception of “Hajia’s irresistable Tuo Zaafi with Ayoyo” submitted by our own Steyn, Loughborough PhD working in Ghana.  Haija is using an Electric Pressure Cooker for a dish that is widely considered best to be prepared on a wood- or charcoal stove. Yet, experience presented an alternative reality of convenience, taste and economic benefits for Hajia and the many people involved. I asked Steyn for a comment:- “Ghana is a land of ethnic and culinary diversity, that exceeds the expectations of many. Hajia, describes TZ as the “food for the people of the North of Ghana”, yet, TZ it has slowly become a National favourite. Literally translated from Hausa, Tuo Zaafi means ‘hot stirring’. It’s highly nutritious and can be made from only indigenous ingredients; traditionally made with millet dough/flour, with a special role for Calabash nut, Dawadawa and Ayoyo for the soup. She was taught to prepare TZ at a young age from her mother: “when I make TZ, it reminds me of my roots.” She feels at peace preparing the dishes with her newly acquired Electric Pressure Cooker instead of the traditional coal pot: “I feel happy because it is easy to cook and very delicious” and happened to be much more economical.”

It struck me to look carefully at the other recipes and ask myself the question – could they all be made in an electric pressure cooker?  Our research suggests that 90% of common meals in East Africa can be cooked in an EPC, so I thought I would test that statement on these beautiful recipes which are mainly from West Africa.

Some dishes require 2 pots. ‘Iyan (pounded yam) the white royalty’ step 14 in the recipe suggests taking another pot.  All the processes in the two pots could be in an EPC, and our research suggests that people don’t like to cook sequentially, but rather in parallel on two burner stoves.  However, as my colleague Jacob Fodio Todd pointed out “An EPC can have many pots (esp if customer feedback is acted upon) so the cooking style with different pot stages is still possible (e.g. pounded yam, goat, sauce, etc. Although it is still sequential it is similar to a say charcoal one heat source, many pots style”   That’s interesting because its not clear from the photo whether Iyan was cooking with gas (as the ‘commercial’ gas stove in the back suggests) or charcoal nor whether he intended it to be sequential or parallel. 

Certainly Ila Alasepo (okro soup) and Amala who is obviously cooking with a single gas burner, could make her recipe in an EPC, as could Maami’s Spicy Stirred Veggies,  Watery, peppery, and spicey  and Le Kokotcha Matooke & G-nut Katogo from Uganda, we know from our partners in Uganda and their current field demonstrations that Matooke can be cooked in an EPC. 

A warm hearty Rice and Beans from Malawi shows a photo with two burners, although the recipe seems to only need one pot – maybe a second one for the rice? 

When requiring two burners or two pots cooking at the same time it is not inconceivable to see modern cooking expressed as an EPC plus induction stove maybe, or EPC plus gas burner?   The latter combination was cited as a strong possibility in Cooking with Electricity | A Cost Perspective (ESMAP 2020).   I can hear some of the readers asking – why not a double induction stove or stick with a double gas burner.  Of course these are options, but the recipe from Malawi talks about soaking the beans overnight to use less energy, so this person is very conscious of energy.  When comparing to a hotplate, an induction stove saves about 20% of the energy required for monthly cooking over a range of dishes.  However in our studies, data shows that EPCs even cooking only some of the monthly range of dishes results in a 50% saving.  See this latest paper from MECS (page 13), so having an EPC saves a lot of money in the longer term.

My final observation is the ‘Shiro: A Comforting and Flavourful Ethiopian Dish’ from Ethiopia. Shiro itself can be made in an EPC, but the injera it needs to be served with cannot. 

So my conclusion?  From the photo competition, most recipes could be done in an EPC.  EPC doesn’t deep fry well, so that’s an issue.  But it is not unreasonable to save money on the significant number of dishes that can be done in an EPC, and have a gas burner or induction stove for the remaining few?  Of course upfront costs suggest the poor can only afford one appliance, but with all the work going on about mitigating that upfront cost, we are able to challenge that assumption in various contexts.

Well done to ICLEI for drawing attention to the good food of Africa and the changing urban food landscape.


Featured image: Tasty urban meals (image credit: Steyn Hoogakker).

Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched