Your oven is probably the most energy inefficient appliances in your house. Running an oven 20 minutes uses about the same amount of energy as running a slow cooker for 8 hours. If you think about this in cost terms, one hour of cooking in an oven is three times more expensive compared to 8 hours of cooking in a slow cooker (see this article in the Telegraph for an explanation). This makes a slow cooker not only a more energy efficient way to cook dinner but it also makes is a great appliance if you are trying to save money. If you break it down, the cost of cooking in an oven for an hour is about £0.30 compared to just over £0.10 in the slow cooker. Maybe the difference doesn’t seem like much. For many, it won’t matter, but for some, it is a big deal.
I do some work with a couple of organisations who distribute emergency food to those who are facing hardship. At a recent meeting, we were discussing the needs of some of these people who are managing on very, very tight budgets. The oven is the last appliance that they want to use when cooking food as people who are struggling to find money for food. In my discussions with emergency food providers in two locations, I was told that there are those coming to the food banks who are struggling on both the food and household fuel fronts.
Some of those who are going to the food bank are also those who get electrical supply via a pre-payment meter (yes, in the UK this is possible). The way these work is that you purchase a card and then insert it into the meter. When you run out of money on the pre-payment card, your electricity turns off. While the cost per unit of electricity used tends to be more expensive than for a service that is continuous and for which you get a bill every month or so, it does allow those on the pre-payment system to limit their electricity use before the bill gets out of hand. Importantly not all household energy use is viewed as equally important, such that there is a suggestion that people will choose to forgo heat in favour of other household expenditures on things such as food, which has given rise to what is known as the heat or eat dilemma (though there is little systematic research that fully explores this situation or the extent to which the heat or eat strategy is being used). It is also unclear just how many in the UK are affected by the lack of fuel and food, but there must certainly be a sufficient number as several food banks are now also providing fuel certificates that enable those on pre-pay meters to keep them going.
While we need to put pressure on our government to consider how our current social support system is designed such that those who are the poorest are increasingly finding themselves unable to meet their basic needs (and this includes those who are in work poor), there is some small support we as citizens can offer. Slow cookers are not just inexpensive to run, but they are also inexpensive to buy. As part of your holiday giving this year why not donate a slow cooker to a charity that supports those who are struggling to eat.