March 2014 By Punya Srivastava Toss out your toxic nonstick, plastic and aluminium pots and pans, and opt instead for an array of beautiful and healthy options: earthenware, metalware and ceramicware, says Punya Srivastava Artist Ninad with his range of pristine ceramic cookware Leading a conscious lifestyle means to pay attention to the way we live. And in the process of doing so, we begin to examine the cookware that is stocked in our kitchen. The beautifully gleaming, teflon-coated, multi coloured pots and pans are health and environment hazards, if we take into account various studies conducted across the world in the last few years. Yes, our beloved little pieces of Teflon sculptures, as advertised on TV, chemically contaminate our food. Apparently, traditional nonstick coatings use two controversial chemicals – PFOA and PTFE. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a processing agent widely used in manufacturing that has been detected in water, food, wildlife, and human blood samples. It has been found that the PFOA, though inert, can be present in a human body even after four years of saying goodbye to it. PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene, though inert, when heated above 660 degrees, which can happen if the pan is left empty over high heat, breaks down and releases toxic fumes that can kill birds and cause flu-like symptoms in people. Symptoms of Teflon flu are actually said to be quite similar to influenza, such as headaches, chills and fever, along with coughing and chest tightness. Some studies have suggested that higher than average PFOA blood levels in humans is linked to higher than normal cholesterol levels, thyroid disease, and reduced fertility. Moreover, PFOA and other chemicals in Teflon coatings have been labelled as ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans’. “Nonstick is toxic, coated with chemicals that infuse into the food when heated. It is worse than using oil. Not having to use oil is one of the reasons given for using nonstick,” comments writer and healer Pradeep Darooka, adding, “The argument is similar to that for using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. The problem is not sugar, but refined, white sugar. Using natural cane sugar or jaggery or other forms of natural sweeteners, eliminates modern-day problems associated with using sugar. Many times the solution is worse than the problem.” The Environmental Protection Agency cites PFOA as the cause of birth defects in laboratory animals, and has urged that industries eliminate it by 2015. The alternatives People opt for modular kitchens and popular cookware as they save them cooking time, reduce their fat consumption, and bring ease to their experience. However, these requirements take a backseat when faced with health hazards. Happily, there are many wholesome and healthy cookware options to choose from. Preethi Sukumaran: a recent convert to eco-friendly utensils “I am a recent convert,” says Preethi Sukumaran, CEO and Co-Founder of the Chennai-based Krya Consumer Products (LLP), an organisation developing organic and environment friendly household products. She has been using glassware and traditional metal ware in her kitchen since the past two-three years. “I first replaced plastic in my kitchen owing to the sustainable lifestyle I had been wanting to follow, and then I kicked out nonstick pans,” she informs, adding, “I found nonstick cookware to be a hazard in my kitchen because the coating comes off and mixes with the food.” Preethi uses cast iron cookware as a replacement to nonsticks. “A well-seasoned cast iron kadhayi works well for people wanting lesser oil consumption. The food does not stick to the surface, and you can use lesser fat to cook your food,” she adds. Apart from cast iron, traditional earthenware products are also a great replacement option. Chattis, special earthenware utensils from Kerala, are an important part of traditional kitchens, used for making curries and fish preparations. Earthenware is porous and has higher water retention, hence making an optimum option for cooking delicious gravies. Similarly, stoneware, called kalchattis, are also an integral part of South Indian cooking. “I use mud utensils and stainless steel in my kitchen. For cooking some traditional Kerala dishes like ‘puttu’, I use coconut shells or bamboo vessels,” says Ushakumari S, horticulturist and Executive Director of Thanal, an environmental organisation in Kerala. “I got hooked to ecofriendly cooking ware because of three reasons. Firstly, food cooked in ecofriendly containers is healthy and tastes better. Also, food cooked in mud pots does not go bad, and need not be preserved in refrigerators. Secondly, earthenware doesn’t pollute the environment, i.e., it will never end up in the waste stream. Moreover, it gives livelihood to a lot of traditional craftsmen, and encourages a production system which supports production by masses and not mass production. This is real sustainability and the need of the hour for our country,” she says. If traditional stoneware, earthenware and metalware does not suit your fancy, how about gleaming and gorgeous ceramic cookware? Ninad, an artist from Pune, specialises in beautiful ceramic ware. An artist by profession, Ninad has been working with ceramic ware since the last 25 years, and has to his credit a wide variety of patented flame-top ceramic cookwares and mineral coated ceramic wares. “I was always interested in cooking, and used to cook for myself. I realised the harm caused by cooking in nonstick ware, and it became a dream to develop ceramic cookware. Thus it was through having had practical experience of the problems that the seeds of this creation were sown,” he shares. According to him, cooking in any other medium apart from ceramic compromises our health, as well as the nutritional value and taste of our food. With this awareness the switchover is easy. His clients are more than happy to opt for this ecofriendly way of cooking. “People worry that the vessel may break if it falls. However, these wares have high tensile strength because of their exposure to very high temperatures in the furnace that renders them unbreakable,” he says. Going green The transition starts by believing in and making a commitment to a certain lifestyle that is based upon ecological and natural principles. According to Pradeep, it is a part of one’s overall spirituality and awareness. If one accepts that one is part of Nature, then all aspects of one’s lifestyle have to be in synchronicity with it. One cannot pick and choose what is convenient. These cookwares are easier to clean and maintain, they are bio disposable, and they inherently discourage you from using microwaves, ovens and other modern damaging appliances. “I feel happy when I use green cookware. I realise that I have become more conscious as a consumer. Once consumers become conscious and aware, industrial practice will change tremendously. It is our responsibility to do that. A culture of conscious consumption is essential for the sustainability of our planet, and it would help our children and their children and generations to come,” shares Usha. According to Ninad, the mineral-coated ceramic ware has various benefits – better taste, higher nutrients, viz proteins, vitamins, minerals. Moreover, they also save energy by retaining heat, and not letting it out like metallic cookware. This results in 40 to 50 per cent conservation of gas fuel. Also, less water is required to clean the utensils, and you can carry the food to the table in the same vessel. “This is the only vessel in the world which releases far infrared rays to energise the food particles,” he adds. Pradeep has the last word: “I still use a small stone hand chakki for grinding atta and dal, an iron mamdasta (mortar) for pounding spices, and a stone sil-batta (grinding stone) for making chutneys and pulpy items. These are all hand-me-downs from my mother’s kitchen, who had inherited them from my grandmother. I use a copper vessel for storing drinking water to infuse it with energy. I use mud kulhads to serve tea and other hot drinks at parties and get togethers, including weddings. I use pattals (dishes and bowls made from dry leaves) to serve food. Once my house is ready, I plan to use sigri and chulah for cooking and the matka for storing water,” concludes Pradeep. Time to follow Pradeep’s footsteps?
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