Have you ever given into buying those cute flower- or animal-shaped pancake or pizza molds for your little ones? Non-stick? Silicone? The easiness of cleaning, the allure of non-stick and the promise of no-begging-for-every-bite meals when the food comes in shapes…
At first sight it seems that you can have it all, and that includes chemicals you shouldn’t be exposed to. Dangerous toxins are hidden in unexpected places.
Take non-stick for example. Man-made substances like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been used for many years to create the much coveted non-stick surfaces we all desire.
But non-stick cookware has a dark side. Overheating a non-stick pan in the presence of a pet bird will kill the bird and create flu-like symptoms in people. Sure children are bigger than a pet bird but should cooking come at such a price? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists showed that emission of fumes happened two to five minutes after heating a Teflon pan on the stove top1.
According to the American Cancer Society2, compounds like PFOA are environmentally persistent and increase the risk of certain cancers in laboratory animals, but the results in humans are still inconclusive. The Environmental Protection Agency3 maintains the same for now and while that could be reassuring if immediate danger is what you were afraid of, it could also mean that years from now you could look back and regret not heeding warnings about possible adverse health effects.
What to use then to be on the safe side?
As a rule, stay away from cookware and bakeware that could be leaching deleterious substances into your food, such as aluminum (antique buyers beware) non-stick pans and pots, old, scratched stainless steel or glazed plates and bowls that have not been tested for safety (think foreign pottery.)
Many cooks swear by their cast iron cookware. Light they are not, but they are durable, safe to use, and, if kept well-conditioned, they are non-stick too. Avoid cooking with something acidic like tomatoes, as this can corrode your pans, making iron leach into your food. Clean with hot water and condition regularly (light oiling and baking at 400F until smoking stops.)
An equally durable, safe option with no conditioning required (other than gentle cleaning using soap and water) is enameled cast iron. It is pricier but it lasts a lifetime. The most dedicated minimalist would include this on their wish list.
Another safe option is stainless steel cookware. As with most kitchenware, buy good quality products and don’t use any sharp metal utensils during cooking or cleaning as they can damage the surface and cause minute amounts of metals such as nickel to leach into food. Try bamboo utensils instead, they are light, stylish and durable.
Glass is great for both cooking and storing. Similar to enameled cookware, take care to avoid sudden changes in temperature as they can cause small cracks and shorten the life of otherwise long-living kitchenware.
As for baking… The rule of thumb, as with cooking too, is to go for inert materials such as glass or stainless steel.
“What about silicone molds?” you may ask. They are very popular these days. Versatile and colorful, silicone, also known as synthetic rubber, has many practical applications in everyday life. However, there is no safety clearance research on its use for cooking and baking. Silicone bakeware also still needs to be greased to prevent sticking and it needs a good washing afterwards. Also, their floppy nature makes for a spilling/dropping hazard, especially when little hands are present.
Our opinion? Stay clear until you know for sure. When it comes to food--and even more so--food and children, safety comes first.
If shapes are required in baking, use your creativity to create them and, most of all, use the opportunity to show your children that you can still have fun with food and make wonderful yummy creations. If you are still on a quest for the no-begging-for-every-bite meal, perhaps a cute little bamboo bowl and a matching spoon/fork will do the trick.
Daniela Ginta, MSc lives and writes in Kamloops, BC, after many years spent on the West Coast. She writes mostly on environmental and social issues, and occasionally shares insights into her life as a mother of two young sons to whom she wants to give two things: common sense and a social conscience. Daniela has written for many local and national publications, and has no fear when it comes to discussing big uncomfortable environment or society-related topics. You can visit her at www.thinkofclouds.com and www.danielaginta.com, or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.