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Freshly cooked mealies (corn-on-the-cob) are an essential Durban street food staple – they are healthy, affordable and conveniently accessible to the local commuter population. Daily, around 28 tons [8 400 cobs] of mealies are sold in Durban’s inner-city, all of which are cooked at the Mealie Cooks Facility, with a gross turnover from this activity estimated at over R1,5 million per week. Mealies are distributed as far as Mahatma Gandhi Hospital in Phoenix, reflecting the scale and impact of this informal activity.

Over the years, the preparation of mealies in the inner-city has evolved from being cooked on large open fires on pavements to a designated cooking facility for Mealie Cooks commissioned by the municipality. This facility supports the livelihoods of around 64 Mealie Cooks, each with 2 assistants working in the space; these informal workers potentially support up to 1,000 dependents.

Despite the provision of basic infrastructure, a major challenge lies in the current cooking method which involves the use of makeshift cookstoves (mild steel drums) to boil the mealies. This cooking practice, also used throughout the metropolitan area, presents a number of challenges; large open fires consume a large volume of fuel, which generates a large quantity of waste effluent, produces smoke and other volatiles due to varied fuel sources, and creates extreme levels of heat. This negatively impacts the environment as well as the health and safety of the Mealie Cooks.

Richard Dobson Architects, together with Asiye eTafuleni (AeT), co-developed an innovative and sustainable cookstove that would alleviate these health and safety risks, reduce carbon emissions and waste, and contribute towards a more efficient cooking method and dignified workplace for the Mealie Cooks. With specialist input, action research and a design iteration process, they were successful in piloting an appropriate cookstove solution.

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