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I remember buying my first set of non-stick cookware at a K-Mart in Charlottesville, VA sometime in the late 1960s. I cooked with it religiously, even after I saw the coating peeling off. When I opened La Cuisine, I discovered cookware from Ireland, which was beautifully made of enameled cast aluminum or iron with teak handles and a much-hardened or “ceramacized” non-stick coating. I stocked and cooked with it, too. It was not until 1975 that the first “anecdotal” evidence of bird deaths attributed to fumes from non-stick cookware was first reported. By 1980, there were more doubts cast on the safety of this miracle cookware, and we stopped selling anything with non-stick coating in the shop. I ditched all my Teflon-coated bakeware and kitchen utensils. I was curious why there was no greater outcry in the press, government agencies, or even manufacturers about this really scary substance. (The efficacy or lack thereof about non-stick coatings will come in a future rant in KD) Then, in 2016, I read the article below and understood why.
First, The Article
Nathniel Rich’s heart-stopping article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” has remained in my mind for the last four years. It renders the political adage that industries can and should regulate themselves as far beyond foolhardy and well into encouraging criminal behavior by corporations or governments that are de facto corporations. As you read through, you’ll discover that the lawyers who were concealing the horrific damage done by the ongoing production of these substances, were in turn hired to be regulators. Nathaniel Rich wrote that PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) was just one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals that companies like DuPont produced and released into the air and ground water globally – all without regulatory oversight.
“By the ’90s, Bilott discovered, DuPont understood that PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals. One laboratory study suggested possible DNA damage from PFOA exposure, and a study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer. DuPont at last hastened to develop an alternative to PFOA. An interoffice memo sent in 1993 announced that ‘‘for the first time, we have a viable candidate’’ that appeared to be less toxic and stayed in the body for a much shorter duration of time. Discussions were held at DuPont’s corporate headquarters to discuss switching to the new compound. DuPont decided against it. The risk was too great: Products manufactured with PFOA were an important part of DuPont’s business, worth $1 billion in annual profit.”
Further, the Toxic Substances Act that was put in place in 1976, allowed the E.P.A. to test chemicals ONLY when the agency had been provided with “evidence of harm”. With chemical companies bearing responsibility for turning in “evidence of harm”, you can imagine how many substances wound up restricted by the E.P.A. – five.
And Now the Film
Dark Waters is Bill Bilott’s story about the trail of damage and death from the ongoing use of this forever chemical, which is in the system of almost every human being on the planet. The nightmare is brilliantly and horrifyingly captured in this film. Dark Waters is truly worth it, and you should have plenty of time to watch it. Mark Ruffalo, who produced the film and played Bill Bilott, stuck to the story. There is no Hollywood alternative screenwriting -which I find so irritating when the truth provides the best screenplay of all. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, we find out that Mark has been a quiet environmental activist for some time. Dark Waters is his first effort to combine his acting skills and production clout. He even convinced Bill Bilott himself to play a hands-on role in the production of this film. The cinamatography, the propping details, combine with quietly intense ensemble acting to make this a film I will not forget.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.
Fortunately I had Nancy Pollard and La Cuisine to help me furnish my kitchen in the 70’s and beyond. She never let me buy non-stick pans. Still don’t own one. Thanks, Nancy
Do you still use your Mauviel Rondeau? It is still my favorite piece. I miss our days of cooking (and of course eating!) together.
The other Nancy
This is an excellent film. As I understand, from a young person whose job is to test ground water, these toxic chemicals exist in our rivers and streams and some drinking waters to this day.
And I’ve been wondering for years what you might recommend for cookware?
I have received so much email on this, that I will write about it in future posts. I just did one on De Buyer carbon steel. But there is no one type of cookware that does it all. If you go for stainless steel, make sure that it is 18/10 and that it has a heat diffusing alloy at the base and sides. If you like to make gorgeous sauces, invest in one copper saucepan. More to come in future posts!
Hi! I too was wondering what brand you’ve pictured in your post? Looking forward to watching the film…
Thank you for your continued educational outreach. Miss the store. In lieu of non stick pans I’ve rediscovered cast iron and have added carbon steel to my collection. Seasoning takes patience and attention but is not hard, and the cookware works beautifully. I’ve used the resources listed on your website for years. : )
What brand and type do you recommend for us to purchase today.
Thank you Nancy. We had this movie on our watch list. We are serious cooks. We have some nonstick. Thought some non-stick different than others so safe to use. Right or wrong? What pots and pans do you prefer these days? Perhaps a low mid and a high dollar range. I like a copper pot but those are very expensive.
Thank you ever so much, Nancy. Ths a real public service. I ony have one non-stock skillet that I use for omelets,,,not any more. Look forward to the film and wil share with many, as well. Even though I don’t live in Alexandria, I still miss your shop on visits .
Yes, great movie and an eye opener that people should pay attention too. Hope you are well doing this time and miss seeing you at La Cuisine!!