In this month’s Harper’s Magazine, Mark Schapiro explores the tremendous oversight of 62,000 chemicals in manufactured consumer goods that the U.S. has never tested for safety. His research finds in the blood of a 19-year-old Italian woman, “brominated flame retardants, which are potential liver, thyroid, and neurological toxins that are used to coat many electronics; the pesticides DDT and lindane… perfluorinated chemicals, known carcinogens that are used as stain- and water-repellents on clothing, furniture, and nonstick cookware; and artificial musk aromas… that scientists claim can reduce the body’s ability to expel other toxins.”
Prompted by these concerns and no longer accepting the American government’s loophole of allowing any chemical on the market pre-1979 to stay unchecked, the E.U. has formed a new bureau of regulation on chemicals, REACH. This telling shift in both environmental and public health standards and economic power is at the core of Schapiro’s article, as well as his new book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s At Stake for American Power.
Because I’m feeling passionate about this subject, I want to take a rare opportunity to share a little about what I currently do as my 9-5. I write copy for a large retailer of home goods, and have become interested in the many new brands of nonstick cookware on the market: Analon, Calphalon, to name a couple. So even before I read this article, out of genuine curiosity, I tried to ascertain what the differences were between these types of coatings and, hopefully, to find out if they posed any dangers. Well. Conducting online research for the safety of these products, I’ve discovered, is like wandering into a greasy spoon diner in the middle of Kansas and asking for a macchiato. Fingers pointed mainly to Teflon, the brand that made a public safety stink several years ago that’s now been decently quieted by DuPont, its manufacturer. (Over a year ago, this company and several others agreed to phase out the use of the dangerous, cancer-causing chemical PFOA in their products by 2015 — not something they’d want you to know about in the meantime.)
So instead of finding information about the relative safety of Calphalon or Analon, I mainly found information about how their dynamic products were innovative and fantabulously amazing to use and clean. Swell. After reading the article in Harper’s, though, “innovative” is not where I want to be when it comes to the safety of my everyday pan. And let’s not forget, I cook nearly everything I eat!
Eventually, thanks in part to the ubiquitous freedom of speech via private websites, I concluded that Analon, Calphalon, anything-“alon,” and essentially anything that says it has a “nonstick coating” use dangerous, yet not fully tested, perfluorinated chemicals. As an owner of nonstick cookware, I’m not proud of the fact that I hadn’t known my government was harboring a sneaky, “not-tested for safety, not a problem” attitude in the past 30 years of environmental and public health regression. Fat and happy, of course, on the chemical industry’s spending for this purpose.
On the same day I read this article, I placed an order for a stainless steel and copper-bottom heavy 9″ covered skillet. I can be a little impulsive — but this was the best impulse buy in my life. The savior in stainless steel arrived gleaming and satisfyingly heavy. Not only did it distribute heat perfectly so that my fresh tomato sauce with pasta cooked up surprisingly quickly, but it browned meat beautifully, popped popcorn delightfully (and I mean not one of those kernels burnt), and it braised my green beans with sundried tomatoes the second time around with ease while sticking to no pieces of garlic or vegetables even under hot-hot heat with just a tiny splash of oil. So I’ve decided that “nonstick” pans are an unnecessary potential risk that my kitchen — and life — simply needs not.
And, I mean, look at it this stainless steel pan: It’s beautiful. It’s been a breeze to clean (so far). It’s so shiny that you can see me taking a picture on it. Its bottom is ringed with copper (or you could just get a pricier all-copper one) that’s starting to develop this cool patina. Its bottom is so heavy that my wrists hurt when I tip it to pour sauce from it. But they will get stronger. As will, theoretically, the rest of my vital organs.
Now I’m shaking my head, wondering why I never learned more about nonstick cookware before. Because I thought it was just Teflon, I suppose. Because I was raised on nonstick cookware, and my mother uses it, and how can you argue with that? Well, sorry to say it, Mom…