So you’re on your way to eating more local, more seasonal, more organic or pesticide-free food and less of it comes from animals. Good for you! I thank you for the positive impact you’re having on our earth and on your own health! Pat yourself on the back!
Now moving on from food habits to cooking habits, let’s open the cabinets and find some other areas where your kitchen can impact both your health and the environment.
While plastics 2, 4, and 5 are safer for food storage than other plastics, they aren’t exactly durable choices for kitchen use. Plastic cracks, shrinks, warps, and stains… and then needs to be replaced. When it comes to utensils, you might not have any way of knowing what kind of plastic was used or whether there are unwanted toxins added.
So when you have the choice, and in most cases you do, opt for plastic free items. For spatulas and spoons, choose bamboo or wood. Glass and stainless steel food storage containers are pretty easy to come by, as are plastic-free stainless steel utensils (can openers, graters, garlic presses, etc). Plastic will age, stain, start to break down and just generally look ugly whereas stainless steel will keep its spartan good looks for much longer. Choosing an item that will last longer, even if it is slightly more expensive to start with, will leave a lighter overall impact on the planet and on your wallet.
The non-stick heart to heart
Are you stuck to your non-stick pans? This type of cookware comes with health risks (teflon flu, anyone?), is easily damaged (I know you’ve had that house guest that left his mark, scrambling eggs with a fork), and is coated with PFOA, a persistent organic pollutant that bioaccumulates in the body (though it’s being phased out, not much of a relief to the polar bears who are stocking it in their body fat). If you can’t ditch the non-stick habit for fear of cleanup catastrophes, worry no more. Help follows. Or if you are hoping to stave off the extra fat used to coat a regular pan, take a deep breath. Haven’t you heard? The 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil you use to coat a pan WON’T make you fat. (Point that finger at your low-fat foods laden with extra sugar instead!)
There are some “non-toxic” “eco” non-stick pans available now, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Why? That houseguest. Coated pans are still more vulnerable to scratching, no matter how hard you promise to handle them with care. But the main reason not to keep buying this type of pan is that a ready alternative awaits. Which you will only need to buy once…
Stainless steel is the real deal
Stainless steel will do the job for you whether it’s frying, sautéing, or deglazing. And if you get distracted and your browning gets blackened before you can throw in that half cup of wine, NO WORRIES. You may have ruined your meal, but you have not ruined your pan and you will NOT need to spend half an hour scrubbing with steel wool. All you need to do is scrape off the excess gunk with your fabulous bamboo spatula, add some water to the pan, let it cool, pour off any excess water but make sure the surface is still wet, then sprinkle liberally with baking soda. Let sit as long as necessary (you will get the hang of it). Then, the burned gunk will wipe right off. Seriously, it will wipe right off! If it’s not wiping off easily, you need to let it sit longer. This works whether it’s burned on, caked up, any kind of food stuck to the surface of your pan. I predict you will be crying tears of joy at what good buddies your stainless steel and your baking soda will become.