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The Healthy, Sustainable Kitchen
Appeared in the Organic Trade Association's O'Mama Report Newsletter, June 2003

By Mary Cordaro
June 2003
©Copyright, Mary Cordaro June 2003, First Serial Rights

Cooking and eating certified organic food is the mainstay and focus of fostering the health of the earth as well as our bodies. There is, however, more to the story about the healthy, sustainable kitchen. Cleaning products, cooking equipment, dishware, food storage containers, appliances and ventilation are also important ingredients that either support our healthy cooking and eating, or greatly compromise our best efforts. By following the guidelines below, you can start to reduce not only your own exposure to toxic heavy metals and chemicals, but also the toxic burden to the earth from the manufacture, use and disposal of items made from certain materials and products, particularly plastic and conventional cleaning products. Here are some tips for keeping your kitchen both organic and healthy:

  • Use 100% natural cleaning products and avoid toxic chemicals, also generally categorized as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from conventional dish detergents, dishwasher, floor and multi-purpose cleaners. VOCs from cleaning products contribute not only to poor indoor air quality but to "greenhouse gasses" and smog. For more on cleaning products, go to the article titled "The Healthy Bathroom" in the May issue of the O'Mama Report Update.

  • Avoid tableware and food storage containers made with lead glazing or varnish, such as older china, some imports, handmade dishes and decorative dishware. For information on how to avoid tableware containing lead and chromium, go to the Environmental Health Center's web site and click on:

  • For cooking equipment, the healthiest options are enamel on cast iron (unless it is chipped or cracked on the inside), stainless steel and ceramic or glass. Avoid chemicals and/or heavy metals from non-stick coatings, as well as aluminum and copper, unless the metals are on the exterior or sandwiched into the exterior of the pot. Make sure there are no seams on the interior of pots, pans and kettles that could open up and leach toxic copper or aluminum into food and water. Never heat or cook in plastic.

  • For food storage, avoid plastic as much as possible. Instead, store food in glass. If you're using plastic wrap or bags, minimize use and buy plastic made only from food grade polyethylene.

  • To catch drips from leaky plumbing and water filters and prevent mold in cabinetry and walls, place a large cookie sheet or pizza pan with a lip all the way around it on the floor of the cabinet beneath your kitchen sink. For the best insurance, have a customsized sheet metal pan with a lip installed to cover the entire bottom of the cabinet, with a "leak detector" that sets off an alarm in the event of leaking or flooding. For more tips on moisture intrusion and mold prevention, go to the article called "The Healthy Bathroom" in the May issue of the O'Mama Report Udate.

  • Cook with and drink pure, pollutant-free water. A note about water filters vs. water purifiers: most water filters are not designed to remove a high enough percentage of certain types of pollutants, such as heavy metals, bacteria and fluoride, which can only be removed by water purification. If you can't afford a purifier that eliminates or reduces a high percentage of pollutants found in your particular region's water, then purchase purified water for drinking and cooking. Instead of bottled water, you may be able to find better and less costly water in a water store, vending machine or health food store dispensing machine. If so, because not all purification systems are maintained properly, be sure to ask store management how often the machine is maintained and the standard of measurement used to determine frequency of maintenance, as well as water purity. Whether it's bottled or from a water dispensing machine, "purified water" is preferable to "filtered water," and glass containers are preferable to plastic. For more information on water purification, click here.

  • Store foods away from heat and light. Keep all oils, foods, spices and herbs away from the heat of the stove and the sun to insure freshness and minimize rancidity. The best place to store all non-refrigerated foods is in a cool, dark cupboard.

  • Good ventilation in a kitchen is a must. An efficient, quiet exhaust fan over the stove reduces toxic combustion by-products from cooking, as well as carbon monoxide from gas stoves. Inadequately vented steam from cooking can contribute to condensation and resulting mold. Whenever you cook, use your exhaust fan and open a window.

  • Whenever possible, use the stove rather than the microwave. Proponents of the biodynamic approach to farming, as well as many environmental and holistic health experts, claim that microwave cooking may destroy the natural "life force" in food, and possibly the absorption of nutrients. Environmental experts also have concerns about electromagnetic fields from microwave ovens. If you're using an older microwave oven, the likelihood of radiation leakage from around the door is quite high because the seal around the door and the opening can become compromised over time.

The list above is far from exhaustive. Using energy-efficient appliances (particularly the refrigerator)and reducing waste are also very important aspects of the healthy, sustainable kitchen. Wherever you decide to start, every little step will bring you closer to a healthier lifestyle, home and planet.
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