When I talk with people about why they don’t cook, “I have really lousy kitchen equipment” comes up a lot. Many people feel that if they can just buy that new set of knives and saute pan, suddenly they”ll be Julia Child. And this is the American way. You’ve got a problem, we’ll sell you a solution. There’s no problem that can’t be fixed at Wal-mart or your local pharmacy.
But whenever I hear this from people, I try to talk them down from the retail ledge. I think that things should go in the reverse order: You earn buying new cookware by cooking more often. The truth is that you can cook almost everything with some really basic equipment, and fancy new kitchen stuff just tends to sit unused along with all the unfancy old kitchen stuff.
But here’s an exception to this rule: In previous, posts I’ve sung the praises of buying bulk foods, and to store these bulk foods, I’m now giving you a papal dispensation to go out and spend $50 on some good new plastic storage containers. A pantry full of basic ingredients will do far more to get you cooking than a new omelet pan and will also make you look extremely organized.
Or at least mildly obsessive compulsive.
The foods above are, clockwise from right: spaghetti, brewed coffee (which I keep in the fridge), quinoa, sliced almonds, black beans, whole almonds, quick oats, brown rice, and red lentils. I’ve also got flour, sugar, kasha, and a few other things in similar containers.
I know this because I can easily see what’s in them, QED. I make this totally inane point solely to suggest that you don’t waste your time with opaque containers. Repurposing empty yogurt tubs as storage is an ecologically admirable practice, but a cabinet full of unidentifiable dry goods is not nearly as useful as one where everything is in plain sight. Beyond being clear, you can use whatever containers you like. The OXO brand ones with the button on top are especially nice, but also more expensive than competitors.
And finally, a few words about safety:
If you read the news, you’ve likely seen a number of articles about Bisphenol A, which is not a planet from Star Wars, but rather a chemical found in a lot of plastic, including plastic storage containers and the plastic liners of metal cans. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is following what I like to call the American Product Safety Life Cycle:
- Product A is a revolutionary item that is totally, 100% safe.
- Consumer safety groups suggest that Product A might not be totally, 100% safe.
- Manufacturers scoff at consumer safety advocates, insisting that Product A is totally, 100% safe and suggesting that consumer advocates are a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing communists who hate prosperity almost as much as they hate America.
- Scientific studies begin to be released suggesting that Product A is not totally, 100% safe, usually by demonstrating that enormous doses of exposure to it increase cancer risk.
- Headlines like “Is Product A killing your entire family, especially your adorable new baby?” begin to appear in news outlets.
- Manufacturers release Product B with prominent labeling indicating that it contains totally different materials from Product A, suggesting that it is now totally, 100% safe.
- Rinse and repeat.
So what does this mean for you the consumer? Confusion. The fact is that a lot of stuff is bad for us, and if you spend all day every day fretting about what things in your house are giving you cancer, you’re going to die of a heart attack long before those carcinogenic products are relevant.
But, that doesn’t mean some basic precautions aren’t a good idea. My advice:
- If you use a plastic water bottler regularly, replace it with a stainless steel one.
- Don’t reuse single-use plastic (disposable water bottles, takeout containers, etc.) more than once or twice.
- Never microwave food in plastic. Whether it is BPA or PCP or whatever the new poison of the moment is, the microwave is the best way to move it from your container to your food.
- And finally, buy BPA-free plastic. Yes, we live in a world where we read about a new hazard weekly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t heed the warnings, and the warnings on BPA seem to be a bit more dire than usual. So I, at least, am heeding them.
Now remember, I am not any kind of scientist or medical professional. I’m just a pretty reasonable guy who reads the news a lot. I follow my own advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Caveat eater. You’ve been warned.
So if you grow an extra toe or two, don’t come crying to me.