So now your pots and pans can poison you, too? We have to worry about that on top of everything else?
This is actually nothing worth spending any time worrying about -- getting safe and healthy cookware is simply something that needs to be thought about, decided upon, purchased and used. Easy and important.
Non-stick pots and pans (all the rage when they were first invented and now very difficult to escape) are leaching carcinogenic toxins into the foods you cook in them. They were never designed for high-heat cooking, but last I checked, most of us aren't cooking on low heat. Heat is heat and if we want to cook our food, we need heat.
As nice as it is to not have your pancakes stick, it's not worth the health risks once that mystery coating starts leaching into your breakfast. According to the Environmental Working Group, non-stick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon. When these pots and pans reach high temperatures, they release toxic fumes that have been known to cause flu-like symptoms in humans and even kill pet birds within seconds. Teflon, made by DuPont, has been sued for hundreds of millions of dollars as the chemicals have been linked to birth defects.
"Perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA), an ingredient of Teflon and also known as ‘C-8’, is a suspected carcinogen now found in humans, other animals and plants in the US, Europe and Asia. PFOA is very persistent. Released into the environment it looks as if it will take Figuratively millions of years to biodegrade. The company ‘3M’ (which once manufactured PFOA) found that it took 4.4 years for just half of it to be excreted from workers’ bodies."(Source).
They are calling Teflon gas the new DDT.
No amount is okay. And for more on this topic, please read Slow Death By Rubber Duck.
Responsibly Dispose Of Your Old Cookware
Given that the chemicals in Teflon are persistent (we're talking millions of years), landfill is not an option. It is your obligation to responsibly dispose of your old coated cookware (and rice cookers, and roasting pans, and muffin tins etc.). Finding where and how to dispose of these pans is a growing problem, but your best bet is to try the following:
- Curbside toxic pick-up. More on that here.
- Scrap metal yard. These places are typically equipped to recycle metal. And if you feel bad taking these toxic pans to men and women who work here (you should) we can all hope their employers are taking the responsible steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
- Mail it away. Some companies offer a mail-in option to discard of your old pans. Do your digging. It is YOUR responsibility to ensure their safe and responsible disposal.
Now that you've responsibly disposed of all your non-stick pans, you may be wondering: What the heck should you replace them with? It seems like every day there's a new "eco-friendly" cookware brand with sci-fi-like descriptions and mystery coatings. How do you choose a pan that's right for you (not to mention the environment?)
Eco + Health Friendly Cookware Options
Option 1: Cast iron cookware
Cast iron is a classic. It's heavy and will require seasoning (i.e. oiling and baking) between uses, but it has all-natural non-stick capabilities and ups the iron content of your food. If you can get over the sticker shock, enameled cast iron pans combine the benefits of cast iron with easy cleanup. We're talking heirloom here. Consider this as a lifetime investment and something your children's children will surely by vying for.
Price point: High.
It's for you if: You're shopping for top quality heirloom pieces that are sturdy, safe and tried and tested. If a full set is out of your price range, get one or two pieces in the size you use most often. Who says your soup pot needs to match your frying pan?
Option 2: Stainless steel + titanium cookware
If you're looking for something that's low risk to both your health and budget, stainless steel is a good bet. According to the Environmental Working Group, stainless steel pans are a good alternative to their non-stick counterparts and brown foods better than Teflon pans. However, there is a risk with stainless steel cookware that nickel will leach into your food. It's recommended that if you're sensitive to nickel, you choose an alternative type of cookware. Titanium stainless steel cookware is much more expensive, but it's of higher quality -- certain grades are actually used to make health equipment.
Price point: Low (high for titanium stainless steel).
It's for you if: You're not allergic to nickel and you're looking for good all-around cookware at a reasonable price. This is what we use in the kitchen as stainless steel is low maintenance, easy to clean and very durable.
Option 3: Ceramic cookware
Ceramic cookware is generally safe, but do a little investigating before you purchase. Only choose brands with zero lead content and avoid any ceramics that have a coloured glaze on the inside (this goes for bowls and mugs too) as these colours typically carry toxic chemicals. Some ceramic glazes contain lead, and with use they can wear down over time. Be sure to wash by hand and try not to use them for cooking acidic foods that could damage the glaze.
Price point: Medium.
It's for you if: You're not ready to make the leap to cast iron, and you're prepared to carefully handle your cookware to avoid chipping, this is for you. Once ceramic is chipped, best to turn it into your newest planter.
Option 4: Glass cookware
This is my preferred choice, though it is a tough one to find (garage sales and eBay are often your best bet for the old classic solid tempered glass cookware). On the one hand, glass won't leach any chemicals or metals into your food, but it is heavy and glass is glass, so there is always the possibility of chips, cracks and breaks. There's also a risk of it, well, exploding. Recent reports have suggested that when Pyrex cookware experiences thermal shock (i.e. going from cold to hot very quickly), there's a risk of it shattering -- so don't go doing that.
Price point: Low.
It's for you if: You love watching things cook (glass pots are awesome for teas and soups), are afraid of potential chemicals or are highly sensitive to metals. Just be mindful of how you store these to avoid any chipping or cracking.