The Low Down On Green Living
July 17th, 2009
Like to cook? So do we! Want to make sure that you’re not poisoning your entire family? Us, too! It’s such a small world…
When most people think of “green” in the kitchen, they often think of the big things, like an eco-friendly remodel with Terrazzo countertops and bamboo floors. Or, maybe we look towards energy efficiency with Energy Star-rated appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
But, there are actually many small ways that we can improve the eco-impact of our kitchens, and many of them bring rewards via fewer toxins.
Pots and Pans
Back in the day, most cooks used cast iron skillets, metal spatulas and other basic tools of the trade. These days, nonstick rules most kitchens, thanks to their ability to reduce the amount of butter or oil needed for cooking and their easy clean-up characteristics. But, with these benefits comes a potential problem: toxic chemicals.
After numerous studies there is still disagreement among experts as to whether non-stick coatings, like Teflon, are safe. That said, there are a few things that are not in dispute:
- Used at high heat, they do decompose and can emit enough fumes to cause “polymer-fume fever”, a temporary, non-lethal, flu-like condition. Though you won’t die from it (at least not right away!) your pet bird will, as their systems are more sensitive to the toxins. A canary in a coal mine?
- Most manufacturers of nonstick pans advise consumers to keep the heat at a medium setting or below, and to not heat an empty pan. Studies have shown that the pans emit toxins at high heat levels, which are quickly reached when empty.
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the chemical used to manufacture nonstick coatings, is associated with tumors and developmental problems in animals. An independent review panel has recommended that the EPA classify PFOA as a “likely” human carcinogen. It is found in the blood of 98% of humans, and will be phased out by 2015. ‘Nuff said.
So, where is the dispute again? Nonstick sounds like bad news.
Though clean-up is a bit harder, check out stainless steel options, or hit your local flea market for an old cast iron skillet. Since cast iron has to be “seasoned” before its first use, an old one is actually a great choice. It’s probably one reason why no one can cook like Grandma!
If you’re using plastic spatulas and spoons for cooking, take a good look at them. Unless they are brand new, they likely look chewed-up on the ends and have with melted spots. Where are those bits going? Into your food, of course.
Make the change to more eco-friendly versions, like utensils made from bamboo. Bamboo is fast-growing and durable, so it makes a good choice in the kitchen, and is now readily available at most kitchen retailers. Look for organic, chemical-free versions to ensure that you’re not accidentally introducing other toxins. Salad tongs and cutting boards come in bamboo versions as well.
Once you’ve invested in some healthier options for pans and utensils, why would you want to rub weird chemicals all over them in the name of cleanliness? Choose eco-friendly dish soaps and hand soaps without anti-bacterial agents, which have been linked to health problems and the spread of resistant “super bugs”. Look for towels (and napkins) made from organic cotton. Skip the paper towels, and start an old fashioned rag bag for wiping down countertops. And though you’ll be reducing the amount of trash that you generate, we can’t all be households, so look for biodegradable trash bags.
So what about all of that extra food? Instead of plastic containers, go retro with glass refrigerator dishes, which can also be heated in the microwave. If you must use plastic wrap, choose a biodegradable variety. Of course, you should try to buy and prepare only the amount of food that you need, but if you must throw food out, feed it to a composter. If worms aren’t your style or if your living situation precludes an outdoor model, under the sink models work great and don’t smell. Besides keeping food out of landfills, composters never criticize your cooking, and your plants and garden will thank you for the wonderful grub!
There’s no doubt about it - we live in a chemical soup. When working to green your kitchen, keep in mind how the things that we put into our bodies affect our health. Wherever possible, opt for products and methods that decrease your chemical exposure. Oh, and eat your (organic) vegetables!
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