Monday, March 19, 2012

Cast-iron versus nonstick

There are now more reasons, my friends, to cast out your nonstick cookware and begin using my favorite kitchen colleague: cast-iron! I know. Giving up expensive wedding gifts and throwing away the Cuisinart nonstick set purchased with blood money won’t be easy. But after the following information, in good conscience you may not even be able to give it away. So fair warning, you can stop here. Sorry, sorry, sorry. On the bright side cast-iron is such a fabulous way to cook. And it may support more healthy living than we imagined.
      Baked squash ready for the oven in my large 12 inch cast-iron skillet

A few years ago I was surprised to learn that pet birds die when exposed to the fumes produced by heating nonstick cookware. Did you know that? Birds are easily poisoned by PFOA and PFOS – the compound that is vaporized when the cookware is heated. The poor canary in the coal mine only this time it’s in the kitchen? Lucky thing humans aren’t quite that sensitive. I occasionally wondered about the surface that wore off into the food we ate and if it was good or bad for us. No matter how careful I was someone was always throwing away a groady old pan and buying me a new frying pan for Christmas.

Apparently, the compounds which go into making plastics are hard to get out of the system once they’re in, and the medical community is finding more concrete data about the effect on humans.

JAMA published an article  (this link is slow to load) in January reporting research on PFOA and PFOS and a related compound PFHxS  (I have no idea and am only parroting) – they are used to make nonstick surfaces in cookware and fabric, like in the trade names Teflon and Scotchguard)  Following a group of Faroese children from birth to age 7, researchers at Harvard Public School of Health found that the more exposure children had to these compounds “the less robust their response to vaccines.” ( I know. Some of you don’t believe in vaccines, but this is about immunity not vaccines.) Children with an “inadequate response to vaccinations was particularly common;” they were not showing sufficient levels of protective antibodies. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard and his colleagues who led the study called the results shocking. (They noted that the blood levels of the pollutant in the participants were, on average, lower than those found in American children.)

The findings are leading them to raise questions about whether the immune deficiencies point to more vulnerability to allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. Science News Magazine reports that Toxicologist Margie Peden-Adams of U of Nevada calls the study impressive and “Those of us in the field will be excited to see it.” (My emphasis. Exciting? Understandable irony when your passion is poison.)
     Simmering mixed lentils with dried apricots and cranberries using Dutch oven on stove top.

I’m not saying that cooking with cast iron is the answer to all our ills. Maybe you or your child’s margins are adequate to handle more pollutants from the environment, no problem, I can’t say. Personally, we’ve seen more allergy, ear infections, strep, and other immune issues in our family than we’d want. It can’t hurt to gradually move from using nonstick pans and aluminum to glass, stainless steel, enamelware and cast-iron. Maybe it’s a little piece of the puzzle? If there is a connection between PFOAs and immune deficiency, it’s easy to project that the manufacturing industry will vigorously protest and deny any links to ill health.


Goins Gang said...

Thanks for sharing this. I so enjoy my cast iron skillets--they get better with age.:) Your food looks so yummy. Would you mind posting the recipe for your lentils with apricots? Thankful for you and your posts! Diane

Margie Haack said...

Thanks Diane. It is a good recipe. Denis says he'd like it once a week. I'd need to many prompts for that to happen. Here's the link.
It's also in the post under the pic now. Easier to get at from there.

Jill said...

wow- appreciate the info. Have know some of this.. really hard for me to get rid of my non-stick fryig pan. Don't use alot. But seems like my cast iron pan needs to much grease/butter to keep it from not sticking. I do good with no aluminum.... needed to hear this.
Guess my new turquiose Paula deen pan will have to stay put! don't think I can get myself to get rid of it yet.
(but just took my boys down the road to pick up our fresh 3 gal. of cows milk for the week! they love going to the barn with me. Make ice cream with it for wkend treats!)

Margie Haack said...

Hi Jill. So many things to see and hear and taste. How good God is! Lovely you can do this with them.

I know cast-iron can take a little work to get it seasoned. But once they are - they really do get better the more you use them. They become almost silky smooth and take very little oil to saute. And they can take a lot of abuse once they're there. You can even scrub the daylights out of them without hurting it. (despite what folks say - like never use soap, etc.)when I'm done a light rub with a little olive oil and voila.

Jenny said...

So glad you posted this. Just this morning, my new rice cooker arrived in the mail, and I saw that it has a non-stick liner. I had not thought this through, the potential for unhealthy eating from a cooker that has great potential to have food stuck to it. I have non-stick in my bread maker, but it's not a thick coating like the rice cooker. So, back goes the rice cooker! Looks like I will be saving for a clay pot rice cooker. :)

Also, we have used soley cast iron since seeing you speak at L'Abri about cast iron (I can still see Denis dragging the cast iron down the hallway, after the lecture!). That was a great session, and what fun we had (perhaps Denis, not so much)!

Thanks, Margie!

Margie Haack said...

Ah, Jenny, thanks so much; it was a lot of fun to do. I think Denis was right on board, he's been a great supporter of these parts of life that some would consider superfluous - believing that "Everything Matters" in God's economy. Sorry you need to send the rice cooker back. Mine broke down quite a few years ago and I've always thought, some day I'll get a new one and it was completely eclipsing my mind that it's a good example of nonstick.

Cara Herzberg said...

I love my cast iron skillet. My only complaint is I can't lift it with one arm. If I want to pour something from the skillet I usually have to call my husband for help. What do you do? Probably 50 push ups every night, so you can easily pour from your skillet, right?