It is now officially Crock Pot season. The lingering Indian Summer blew town like some itinerant guest who left the door open, letting the next wandering chill to walk through and settle itself in at the boarding house table.
Though raw foods are always part of my daily menu, I say it's time to bring on the warm comfort foods. Like rice and other slow-cooked foods.
I often use my slow cooker to make stock, transforming fresh veggie peelings and end pieces that I've frozen over the summer into a simmering base for soups or stews or a flavor-filled cooking broth for rice or quinoa. This was the case recently--until I discovered that the crockery pot that fits into the heating unit of my slow cooker was cracked-- and then things got interesting.
First, I'll tell you that my crock pot is a hand-me-down and it's old. The crock that holds the food is crazed with tiny lines which coalesced into an all-out rebellion of integrity and evolved into a long, divisive crack, placing me and it at odds with its intended use. It's function is now a history of abstract patterns and lines which probably qualifies it as a low form of antique pottery. As it turned out, this finding wasn't just about several quarts of awesome stock potentially leaking out. I soon learned it's all about food safety.
I was bummed that I couldn't make my 'set it and forget it' stock so I started searching on the 'Net for a new slow cooker. Hello, Amazon! And thanks to a critical review about one of its cookers: Goodbye, traditional crockery cooker!
Here is what I found out: the glaze on the crocks of most slow cookers contains lead and over time leaches that lead into the slow-cooked food, especially if the food has some acidic chemistry or ingredient (think: tomatoes) and even more so if the pot is cracked or crazed. YIKES!!
You can read this critical review and lead advisory on Amazon here,
The Lead Advisory thread let me to this site where the author shares her investigation into slow cookers and lead leaching. The blog was written in 2012 and it is only my guess that slow cookers are still being produced with crocks that contain lead in the glaze. The FDA sets the "acceptable" levels of lead that a glaze can contain (this is cited in the article hyperlinked earlier in this paragraph) and after reading a bit on FDA lead regulation, it appears to me that FDA testing and regulation is inconsistent.
This blows my mind! Not only am I a healing foods chef and teacher, I have been a potter and ceramicist for nearly 30 years. I spent 5 years in the Ceramics Department at Mass. College of Art and part of my studies there included course work in glaze chemistry and studio safety. In 1986, California's Prop 65 set the standard for dinnerware glaze safety for American potters and ceramicists. If a potter in the U.S. is using lead on her pottery, it is for decoration only and should be labeled such. This is not the case with pottery coming from China and some Latin American countries. Prop 65 initiated the labeling you may have seen that warns the buyer of certain foods and goods that some component of the object or food they are considering for purchase may cause cancer. You've probably seen one of these labels at one time or another.
If lead is such a danger, why is lead in some glazes? Lead acts like a flux and has a very low melting point. When it melts and is fired to the correct temperature, it creates a very glassy and durable surface. It stabilizes bright colors on pottery like reds, oranges and yellows, colors that are used in Chinese and Mexican pottery. It's also an affordable glaze chemical but it does break down, especially in the presence of anything acidic. There are safer alternatives that are reasonable in price and still produce beautifully intense colors and do not break down as easily.
It's important to know your pottery's origins and age. The older the pottery, the brighter the colors, the more suspect it is for lead and other heavy metals. Also, just because an appliance or piece of cookware is being sold in the U. S., doesn't guarantee that the product is lead "safe" or will stay safe, as in the case of my slow cooker's crock.
So, what to do? After a few hours of reading and searching, I ended up purchasing a VitaClay slow cooker which slow cooks food in an unglazed crock. The site's description of the benefits of cooking with clay completely resonated with my concern for clean and great tasting food and my sensibilities and knowledge as a potter. Here's what the company says about their product:
"Organic unglazed clay activates enzymes and minerals in your foods, enabling you to extract extra flavors and nutrients from your recipes while increasing digestibility. Clay is also alkalizing—everything the ancients prized in healthy cookware, superior taste and perfect texture and synergistic properties—clay working together with your foods and spices to create a synergistic partnership to let food be your medicine—right in your own kitchen."
I like what they have to say. I'll let you know what I think of the VitaClay cooker after mine arrives and I try it out.
Unfortunately, we're exposed to toxins every day, both obvious and insidious, at acceptable and non-acceptable levels. The best we can do is to try to limit our exposure to known toxins and mitigate the less obvious toxins that accumulate in our bodies through food consumption and environmental exposure with conscious food choices and cleansing protocols. Above all, don't stress about what toxins you may or not be exposed to. Be informed, but not afraid.
I invite you to call the company who made your slow cooker, if you have one, and ask them about the glaze they use on their crockery part. Ask them if it contains lead and if the parts-per-million are within U.S. standards and then decide if this standard is acceptable to you. If not, you may want to prepare your cold season warm meals differently or investigate an alternative cooker like the VitaClay line or a piece of handmade lead-free pottery that you can bake in and/or eat out of.
You can also check out this great recipe from my dear friend Kris Love who created a Chelation Pesto to help remove toxins from the body. The main ingredient, cilantro, is proven to help remove accumulated heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium. It's an amazingly delicious way to support detoxification.
And as these days grow cooler and the nights get longer settle in with this comforting
Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Soup and this easy and wickedly delicious Raw Onion and Rosemary Bread. They'll make your body and soul sing with seasonal happiness.
Shine on, you lovely, living beings!
Be well. All ways. Always.
Hi! I'm Beth and I'd love to share with you my passion for living a fabulously healthy plant based lifestyle to help you on your wellness path, one delicious bite at a time. And, by the way, I'm a ceramic artist who is passionate about putting plants on pots!