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Cast Iron Politics

American Cast Iron versus Foreign Cast Iron

YouTube: Does cast iron from China contain lead?

When it comes to the subject of cast iron cooking, there's one point of contention that sends emotions flaring more than any other: the question of Asian-made cast iron cookware versus American-made cast iron…especially cast iron cookware made in China. First of all, Chinese goods have a reputation that is well-deserved for shoddiness and poor quality construction – in some cases. There are some brands of cast iron made in China especially for American distributors, and these brands are subject to quality control standards that, I feel, make them trustworthy enough to use. (Camp Chef cast iron is quite popular, despite its Chinese origins. The Camp Chef Ultimate Turkey Roaster was discontinued, but it is a collector's item and considered quite valuable to those who manage to score a used one…and Camp Chef is a sponsor of many cast iron and dutch oven events, including the National Dutch Oven Gathering).

There are ongoing questions about the quality of Chinese cast iron, and these questions usually sound scary: "What about poor quality iron that could be tainted with chemicals and/or lead?" I've looked for actual documentation for instances of Chinese made cast iron in which this actually happened: people being injured, poisoned, or otherwise affected by poor quality Chinese cast iron cookware. So far, I haven't found any verifiable cases of this kind. Yes, this has happened with a number of other products from China: there have been instances of toys from China with high levels of lead; vitamins, supplements, and even actual medicines contaminated with chemicals; food that turned out to have contamination; and of course shoddy quality electronics that have shorted out, or worse. But so far, this has not happened with cast iron. Because of all this, I am currently convinced this is an urban legend. It is based upon fears that stem from the acual instances of contaminated Chinese products…which are far more complex in manufacture than cast iron cookware. I know the possibility exists that it COULD happen – but so far, it has not. You can say the same thing about any product made in China, be it car parts or TVs or glass bowls or plastic trash buckets or shirts or pants…many of which are sold in the biggest American retail stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target, not to mention lower priced (and lower quality) discount stores such as Big Lots or Ocean State Job Lot.

I'll certainly agree with everyone who trumpets the quality of American cast iron, be it modern-day Lodge or vintage Wagner, Birmingham Stove & Range, Wapak, Griswold, and gate-marked 19th century iron pots. When it comes to quality iron cookware, the best in the world still comes from the United States of America…even though the market for cast iron today is a fraction of what it used to be. I'll always enjoy my "redneck" pan, my Lodge 10 inch Cast Iron Skillet. That said, I also have fun using my giant Bayou Classic 16 Quart Dutch Oven – which can only be purchased from a company that markets Chinese cast iron here in the United States. Lodge simply doesn't make a cast iron pot like this.

Finally, there is one other aspect of this subject that is very emotional and very controversial, namely the politics. Here, this becomes a subject that I have taken pains to avoid on the Cast Iron Cooking group. A lot of the antipathy towards Chinese made cast iron stems from down-home American patriotism, especially the idea that when we buy foreign product, we are damaging American business and hurting American jobs. Yes, there is quite a lot of truth to that. But, this opens a very complicated and emotional can of worms that can easily result in arguments over politics and business that really do not have a place on a Facebook group intended for cooking. If this were to be discussed in detail, we could end up having arguments about how Wal-mart destroys local businesses with its "low prices;" how even American companies like Lodge use Chinese products (Lodge enameled cast iron pans are in fact made completely in China, including the iron itself as well as the enamel coating); how modern-day "globalization" makes it impossible to avoid using foreign-made products in general; and many other similar subjects.

These have already been the cause of at least one bitter argument that ended up causing a few people to leave the Cast Iron Cooking group. Of course, it is an open group, and people are free to come and go as they please. HOWEVER, the strong emotions attached to these subjects are the reasons I would prefer NOT to discuss them on the Cast Iron Cooking group. I will kindly remind everyone that there are many groups on the Internet for discussion of political and business subjects, and these groups are more than welcome to accept the vicious arguments that can stem from political discussions of this sort. Is it "censorship" to force political arguments off of the group? No – this isn't a political discussion group, it's a group about cooking.

I would prefer that the Cast Iron Cooking group be primarily for the discussion of COOKING. This is why I make an effort to keep politics OUT of the group. For these reasons, I ask that people refrain from these kinds of arguments. Occasional light comments are more than welcome, but extended long-term arguments over politics are NOT allowed for all of the reasons listed here. Because the subject of this group is Cast Iron Cooking, discussions on the use of all kinds of cast iron cookware are allowed, including pieces made in China and all other countries. If you feel Chinese made cast iron is inferior in quality to vintage American made cast iron, you are free to say so – in a manner that (hopefully) does not deliberately insult anyone.

After all, even in China, people cook in cast iron and enjoy eating good food.

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