I’ve always been a knowledge seeker. It’s the fancier term for a nerd. I can’t help it. I love to learn. It’s probably why I chose a profession that requires lifelong learning. As a medical student, resident, and now attending physician, I’ve found a great appreciation for and thirst for education as it is truly the foundation of medicine.
So, when I set out on my journey to start a colorful, stainless steel line of children’s dinnerware, I started like I always have - voraciously read and learn about the science behind steel. If you are a fellow knowledge seeker (yes, fellow nerd), come to learn about it with me - in fact, it’s cooler than you think. My second love? Teaching.
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is an alloy (a mixture of metals) of mostly iron with some chromium and nickel. We often describe our Ahimsa steel as grade 304 18/8. This means it is high-grade steel with 18% chromium and 8% nickel - it is these two materials in those percentages that significantly increase corrosion resistance (otherwise known as rust).
Why is steel better for the planet than plastic?
Last month, a fantastic NPR podcast highlighted the problem with plastic which I will summarize here: “According to a 2017 research article, more than 40% of all plastic made is packaging, which is used only once or twice before being thrown away. According to a recent analysis examining global plastic waste generation between 2010 and 2016, the United States was responsible for more plastic trash than any country in the world. That’s millions and millions of tons of plastic waste. Per capita, that boils down to nearly 300 pounds of plastic trash per person(!) per year. It’s estimated that only about 9% of plastic waste generated in the U.S. is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators, and, unfortunately, marine environments such as rivers and oceans. And there, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it will remain for hundreds of years.”
On the contrary, stainless steel is literally a champion of recycling. It is one of the world’s most recycled materials - more than paper or glass, with around 90% of end-of-life stainless steel being collected and recycled into new stainless steel – without losing quality. 60% of all new stainless steel comes from recycled material. It is infinitely recyclable.
Why did the American Academy of Pediatrics choose stainless steel as one of the only two materials recommended in their policy statement?
I asked this question to the lead author of the policy statement, Dr. Leonardo Trasande. He explained that glass and stainless steel are materials that have been well studied and have been shown to be safe over many years. Newer materials like silicone haven’t been studied long enough, and other materials like melamine have shown a clear association with child health interference.
I looked into the properties of steel before launching a company and found many reasons that steel is used in two settings I am used to - the kitchen and the hospital. Our pots and pans, as well as indwelling medical implants and surgical tools, are made of stainless steel.
So, what are the properties that make it so great for these important settings?
- It’s chemically inert: It doesn’t interact with its surroundings, meaning it won’t migrate its elements into your body or your food. It also preserves a purity in cooking - it won’t discolor food or impart metallic flavors into that meal you spent so much time preparing. It also won’t hold on to the tastes or smell of food or soaps after cleaning.
- It’s durable and lasts: If something is going to be indwelling in your body to play a role in your health, it better last! If you look around your kitchen, you may note that your steel pots and pans are older than your children - and still in great shape. It can be dropped, exposed to heat, and thoroughly disinfected and sterilized safely without breakage, degradation, or corrosion - allowing it to last for years. Because stainless steel is passive (self-healing/renewing) and tenacious (very resistant to scratching/abrasion), it leads to savings on maintenance and longer service life.
- It’s easy to keep bacteria away: In hospitals and commercial kitchens, infection control is a top priority. Bacteria are commonly on surfaces, and some can survive for several weeks - contributing to the spread through day-to-day contact. So the smooth, non-porous, non-absorbent surface of stainless steel can be easily cleaned to prevent bacterial growth - specifically Staph Aureus, a big player in hospital-acquired infections and food-borne infections.
So there you have it - steel is preferred by the environmental, medical, and culinary worlds. I was just a pediatrician mom cooking my children’s meals when I had the “aha moment”! My worlds converged to bring the idea of AHIMSA® to my mind. Now I simply cannot help notice the amount of stainless steel in hospitals and kitchens - it’s always been here. It’s just time we bring it to our family dining table.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela