There’s a long history of wooden dishes in Britain dating right back to the Iron Age. They only became less popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries with the advent of inexpensive glazed pottery. Recently though wooden plates and bowls are gaining in popularity as an eco friendly tableware choice. But are they right for you? To help you with your decision I’m going to outline the benefits and drawbacks of eating off wooden dishes.
When choosing to use wooden dishes you’re obviously also making the decision not to choose another type of dinnerware, so as well as looking at wood’s beneficial characteristics and I’ll compare it to other popular tableware materials.
First off, wood’s a natural material. This means it’s biodegradable and renewable. Biodegradable means it’s easily broken down and recycled by nature. It will return to the soil, adding nutrients, if left outside for a few years. Renewable means it can be replaced by growing more. Therefore, provided we replace the trees we use with the same amount then wood is a sustainable material.
Handling a wood bowl or cup is a very tactile, satisfying experience. Research has shown that we have a deep connection with the natural world and respond positively to biophilic design.* Using wooden plates, bowls and dishes can strengthen this connection to nature in our daily lives. As a consequence we’ll increase our sense of well being.
*“Biophilic design is a concept used within the building industry to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions.”Wikipedia
Another great characteristic of wood is its durability. Good quality wooden tablewares is exceptionally long lasting and ages well. If cared for woodware will retain its good looks year after year. It’s toughness also means it can withstand the rigours of daily family mealtimes. Breakages and chips are a rare occurrence.
advantages over plastic (including melamine)
I’ve already stated that wood’s a natural material. As such it is part of the earth’s cycle and decomposes to be naturally recycled. All forms of plastic, synthetic and biobased are not natural but created through industrial chemical processes, using non renewable resources, that generate toxic emissions. It’s widely acknowledged that plastic is a real problem for the planet and wildlife. This is because once discarded it takes 100’s of years to break down. Unfortunately even after all that time it cannot fully decompose but just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces to become micro plastics. These micro plastics are now seen as a major menace to wildlife as they are ingested and have now found their way into the human food chain. Managing plastic waste by incinerating it causes environmental problems. The small percantage that’s recycled is just using more energy and chemicals so every stage of plastics life span has a negative impact on the planet. So buying less of it’s a great way to help the planet .
In contrast, the production and processing of wood uses far, far less energy than that of plastics, giving wooden products a significantly lower carbon footprint.
It’s a misconception that wooden surfaces are dirtier or somehow not as clean as plastic. Dr Dean Cliver, Professor of Food Safety at the University of California, undertook research comparing bacteria levels on wooden and plastic chopping boards. His full report on food safety and woodware can be read here. This and other studies*, found that wood actually retains less bacteria than plastic. It has also been proved that wood is naturally antibacterial.
“our early experiments showed that wood generally yielded fewer
bacteria than did plastic after contamination.”
Dr D. O. Cliver
The negative impact of plastic on human health is becoming increasingly alarming. At every stage of its life plastic is damaging to our health. During its extraction and manufacture it releases emissions that include Benzene, PAH’s, VOC’s and 170+ toxic chemicals. While using plastic products there are risks of ingestion and/or inhalation of microplastic particles and hundreds of toxic substances. This exposure can lead to inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, and necrosis that are linked to negative health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer and autoimmune conditions. Plastic waste management like incineration releases toxic substances including heavy metals such as lead and mercury, acid gases and particulate matter, which can enter air, water, and soil causing both direct and indirect health risks for workers and nearby communities.
In stark contrast to plastic wood has no negative impact on health. In fact it has been show to have a positive impact as we find wood a calming material which reduces symptoms of stress and improves mental well being.*
advantages over china/pottery
The obvious advantage wood has over china is it’s toughness. Drop a piece of china and it’s likely to shatter into lots of little fragments. China also chips easily which is very annoying on an otherwise perfectly usable plate, cup or bowl. Wood on the other hand, is very durable and copes well with rough handling. Drop it and watch it bounce.
An often over looked quality of wood is how peaceful it is to eat from. There isn’t the clinking and scraping of china or glass. This makes for a subtle difference in the quality of the dining experience.
the downsides of wooden tableware
Now before you make up your mind if wooden tableware’s for you there’s a few downsides to consider. Thinking about these points should help you to decide if its right for you and your family.
Sadly wood isn’t microwavable. Although wood won’t spark dramatically like metal in a microwave, it does have a small water content and this will cause the item to warm up. Eventually it will crack and warp as it dries out. There are work arounds to this however, like using a different container for reheating food.
Wooden plates and bowls are also not dishwasher friendly. So will you or someone in the family be happy to wash them up in the sink? It’s not recommended that wooden items are left to soak so it’s best to wash them up soon after use. Dunk them in a bowl of hot soapy water and use a bristle brush. Then simply leave them to dry on the drainer.
Wood can stain and absorb smells, especially when it comes into contact with strongly coloured foods like beetroot, pasta sauce or drinks like tea. However, acidic foods like tomato based sauces or greasy foods will not damage the wood or weaken it. Over time stains will dull down and become part of the wood’s patina. This is part of wood’s graceful ageing process. To address the smell issue you might consider using a dedicated cup for tea/coffee or having separate bowls for breakfast and dinner.
Wood isn’t maintenance free. Woodware needs a bit of looking after as it becomes dull with use. Luckily, all you need to do is rub your plates and bowls with some food safe oil every 5-6 months or when they’re looking drab. It’s amazing how the oil revives them and buffs to a lovely soft sheen.
Good quality woodenware is not cheap. However, it is very good value when you consider how long lasting it is. So if you choose to buy wooden dishes consider it an investment which will save money in the long run. Buying one or two pieces initially is a good way to try out woodware and see if it’s for you. Then if you decide it is you can add more items to your collection over time, or as your family grows, until you have your perfect dining set.
In conclusion there’s lots of benefits to choosing wooden dishes. They’re natural, calming, eco friendly, clean, healthy and durable. Moreover, if properly cared for they’ll last for generations. But above all, they’re wonderful to eat from creating a tactile, quiet and somehow warm eating experience.
” Buy less,
make it last.”
A lovely piece by Lauren Dahl on her Living Home blog about why she switched to wooden dishes, and continues to love eating from them, here
exclusive pre-launch virtual event
Follow the rest of the story by reading my journal entries over the course of this month (July 2020). If you want to be among the first to see the whole collection then become a ‘heartie’ subscriber by completing the form below. This guarantees you’ll be sent an invitation to the 3 Bears Pre-Launch Virtual Event on the 30th July. Your invite will contain a password to access a secret area on my website. Here you can browse the collection and receive 20% off any 3 Bears Woodware during the 24 hours before the official launch on the 31st July.