Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the "Nuke"

Our microwave died this weekend. And in the few days since its demise, I've already reached for it multiple times, only to realize—with a bit of frustration—that I must instead use the stove to reheat a bowl of soup or a plate of spaghetti. How truly inconvenient. And, as if the loss of the microwave weren't traumatic enough, last night's windstorm knocked out our power for almost an hour. Really now. What's a twenty-first century housewife to do? First leftovers on the stove and then dishes by candlelight? How positively medieval.

Actually, the medieval experience was kind of fun—in a historical theme-park sort of way. Candles and flashlights are exciting precisely because they are out of the ordinary. But every theme park vacation must come to an end, and I, for one, prefer having light and heat instantly available at the press of a button.  So I've been shopping around, hoping to find a reasonable price on an appliance that will adequately meet our microwave needs. Yes, our microwave needs.

Somehow, every convenient new gadget or service that begins as a luxury ends up, in a few short years, as a need.

I distinctly remember the day that my parents bought their first microwave. We were living in a rental house on Monroe St. in Spokane, Washington, when we welcomed into our home the boxy appliance that would take over our counter space and light up the kitchen at night with its glowing-blue digital clock. It had an attractive wood grain pattern printed on its sides. And it changed our lives. It changed American life.

With the advent of the microwave came a whole new array of convenience foods: bags of pre-buttered popcorn, single servings of soup and oatmeal, and complete four-course meals, to name a few. The microwave turned leftovers into a time-saving, eat-at-your desk lunch option. And what the microwave did for college cuisine is probably incalculable. There are apartment-dwelling undergrads who manage to complete a four-year degree without ever turning on a stove. True story. Why spend valuable hours slicing and dicing and boiling and sautéeing, when you can heat and ingest a tray of Lean Cuisine in less time than it takes to preheat an oven? And, as an added bonus, there are no dishes to contend with when you're done. It's truly a triumph of American efficiency. But it can, unfortunately, also be triumph of American insipidity and impatience.

The microwave seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for this American life: easy, high-tech instant gratification. We live in a microwave culture. Let's face it: deep down, every American is pro-nuke. We like everything to be cheap, simple, and immediate; we want everything to be microwavable: work, education, religion, politics, health care, entertainment, sex, and, of course, food. So naturally, when my microwave breaks, I'm off in search of a new one before the old one has cooled.

I guess I could be making an argument right now for how much richer life would be if I just went back to the days before microwaves entered my life. I could eschew the nuke-it culture by kissing my microwave goodbye for good, and I might even find my argument convincing. After all, I'm fully in favor of putting the brakes on in lots of areas of life. I don't expect a newly elected politician to press a button and eliminate all the nation's problems the day after he takes office. I don't want my kids to learn piano "in 5 easy lessons." I would rather not get a master's degree with a few clicks of the mouse. I believe that most of what's valuable comes through hard work, patience, and sacrifice, and that includes food.

I like to cook. Honestly, I do. And gardening is another wonderful way to learn delayed gratification when it comes to bringing dinner to the table. I'm a huge fan of homegrown tomatoes. I like a slow-roasted brisket as much as anyone. But at the same time, I miss my microwave. There does seem to be a legitimate place for time-saving devices, and reheating the leftovers, to my mind, is one of them. With a microwave, I've lost nothing but extra dishes to clean, and I've gained precious minutes at the table with my family. Sometimes, instant gratification is, well, gratifying. And, and as fun as cooking by candlelight can be, when it comes to yesterday's chicken soup, I still believe that the best option is to just "nuke" it.


natalie said...

We've never had one, but we got a toaster oven about a year ago, and love it. It is a little slower, but it has the same abilities, plus making great toast, so it does double duty!

Kjerste said...

Well said! I often feel guilt over all the time saving devices in our lives, and wonder if we've just become more lazy. Perhaps we have to some degree, but as long as we're on guard against it, and are still making the most of all our minutes, microwaves and dishwashers and even the cars we drive can all be a great boon to us. I do wonder though if we had to work harder for what we enjoy, if we wouldn't enjoy God's gifts too us, like time with our children, all the more.

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