Heartbreak City: Melamine & Dinnerware

As I’ve mentioned before, the older I get, the more interested in dishes I get. Justifying large platters, individual ramekins, and unique one-off plates is a piece of cake now, and when really beautiful dishes and flatware are on sale, it’s definitely a responsible use of my time to figure out where the best pieces fit into my collection. (Hashtag boring? Maybe, but I’m so distracted by pretty appetizer plates that I can’t be bothered.)

I’d never heard of Michael Aram before I saw the beautiful and affordable dishes on closeout at Macy’s. “Black Orchid,” “Melamine/Lotus Melamine,” and “Lemon wood” are dish collections that arrested me at first sight, before I even noticed that they were all from the same brand.

Melamine by Michael Aram

…but they’re all made with melamine, which is a resin created with urea and formaldehyde that is pretty much unbreakable, but isn’t that great at withstanding heat. Oddly enough, baby products and school cafeteria dishes are frequently made with melamine because it’s cheap, durable, lightweight and holds bright colors very well.

Sadly, if this stuff is mishandled – aka heated via oven, dishwasher, microwave, food-too-hot, etc. – that resin is going to break back down into the incredibly toxic materials that comprise it. Not good for babies, not good for animals, not good for anyone.

So why did Michael Aram make nearly all of his beautiful plates with this poisonous material? Is this the Bakelite of our generation? (Or is is BPA? Nitrites? GMOs? …We’ve got a lot of work to do.)

Michael Aram Glasses

What confuses me even more is that Michael Aram then went on to make some extremely glamorous utensils, goblets, and glasses with Tritan – a plastic that is free of BPA, free of estrogenic/andogenic activity, and is also dishwasher safe. So the wine you drink will be served in a safe, thoughtful container and the food you eat will be served on a toxic chemical sandwich flattened into a wafer and decorated. (???)

Okay, yes, the FDA says that the amounts of melamine that they found released into your food was probably fine for consumption… Though you can easily find articles that, in one line, suggest using melamine tongs or mugs for tea — but then confirm two paragraphs later that melamine should not be heated over 160°F! If my memory serves me correctly, boiling water (into which tongs and teabags often go) is 212°F… Hm!

But if you’re making your decisions based on the FDA’s decisions, you’d better be donating half your salary to organic and non-GMO food causes because, like lots of other government organizations, the FDA likes to go where the money is. It’s why there are still shelves of cancer-causing aspartame in the grocery store!

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The world of consumerism continues to fascinate and annoy me.

I wanted to share this with all of you because, before today, I hadn’t heard of Michael Arams… or melamine. As usual, it took me falling in love with something in order to discover that it was terrible for me. Next time you come across a lightweight, beautiful plastic dish, check the material composition – buyer beware!