Friday, February 24, 2012

Is The Microwave Our Enemy?

One of our lectures in the Master Gardener program was about vermicomposting, given by a woman who I would describe as lovely-in-a-quirky-way. For the unfamiliar, vermicomposting involves inviting several hundred worms into your home, feeding them your leftover kitchen scraps, and saving their poop (yes, I said poop) to use in your garden. It's not as messy as it sounds. Regular compost is to gold as vermicompost  is to platinum. I cannot wait to have the space to try this!

Throughout the course of her talk, she mentioned there are some foods the worms like better if they have been heated up. Someone asked whether you could use the microwave. Our speaker made a conjecture as to the answer followed by "but I don't have a microwave, so I don't know for sure."

Huh? No microwave?
"I know, I know", she said, "I'm the only person in America without a microwave."

While she's probably not the only person without one, she is certainly part of a dwindling population of folks who go microwave-less. These machines have worked their way into the foundations of our lives. Nary a new home is built without a shiny, state-of-the-art over the range microwave. The funny thing is, with all the technology that exists, they don't even work that well. When I microwave something, it has hot and cold spots unless I pull it out and manually stir; those rotating trays just don't cut it. And then there's the boredom factor. The slowest minute-and-forty-five seconds of my day is when I'm waiting for my leftovers to heat up at work. Even though standing at the stove and stirring my food takes a few minutes longer, the active participation makes the time go by much more quickly.

The Microwave Makes Eating Too Easy
Microwave ovens have gotten fancier as the years go by, and honestly, it's getting a little bit creepy. You used to have to listen to the time between pops of your microwave popcorn to decide if it was done, now you press one button and this machine knows when you've attained maximum popped kernels. It can tell when your chicken is defrosted and when your cup of water is hot.

Isn't that just a little too easy?  Huge companies have been built around the ease and convenience of "cooking" with your microwave, but what if everyone had to work for their food. You're more likely to savor and appreciate a meal you spent an hour working on. You'll save the extra for leftovers and you'll probably feel good because you had something fresh and full of nutrients. A microwavable meal is more likely to 1- have added salt (and you are probably already getting too much), 2- be inhaled rather than enjoyed, and 3- anything leftover is probably tossed into the trash.

But I Don't Have Time To Cook
Yes you do. Unless you are doing something extraordinary with your day like working two jobs to pay your rent, yes you do. It might take a little more planning and you might eat a bit later, but you can fit it in. For the most part, whether you cook or heat up a frozen prepared glob is a choice you are making like any other. Can you make time to watch TV or surf the internet? Then you can make time to cook.

Fine, I Can Cook. What About My Leftovers?
So you want to reheat your leftovers. If you're at work, you honestly may not have a choice between using the microwave and eating cold stir-fry. While I think there is no excuse for all offices not to have fully equipped kitchens, that just isn't the reality. So fine, microwave your leftovers.

If you're at home, on the other hand, there is no need to turn to the microwave. This is the one occasion I regularly use mine, but microwaves and toaster ovens tend to dry out foods (you know how you have to add a little water sometimes before microwaving?) or alter their texture. Pull out a pot and throw in your leftovers. Or try this method of steaming your food as an alternative.

Shared At: Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday


  1. I lived for several years with no microwave, and we were certainly fine with that. We reheated leftovers on the stove and popped popcorn the old-fashioned way. But since we were given a microwave as a gift, I've actually found it very helpful in feeding my family a real-food diet. Reheating leftovers in the microwave means fewer dishes for me to wash, since I'm not using several pans to heat lunch that will then have to be washed so I can cook dinner. And the microwave is very useful for making a super-quick meal--I can just stick a couple potatoes in the microwave and let them cook while I heat up some frozen veggies on the stove. It's not the fanciest meal ever, but it's good for when we just need something fast and easy.

    I do find it disturbing when people seem to think that it's okay to live off of frozen meals. And there are definite drawbacks to microwaves, as you point out--uneven heating, drying out some foods, etc. But I do think there can be a place for a microwave in a real-foods kitchen and that it's okay to save time and labor in some areas so that there is more time for other valuable things. I spend a ton of time in the kitchen, but I also need time for other things, like playing with my two-year-old. Doing things the harder way is not always better, and sometimes doing things the easy way can give some important benefits.

  2. Kristin that is a great point about the time-saving aspect of it. I was thinking about that myself as I was about to post this, because I'll also use the microwave to cook a sweet potato or melt some butter on occasion. We are old-fashioned popcorn poppers, too. :)

    I have noticed that a lot of my co-workers are always heating up frozen meals for lunch and I do wish our culture was just less dependent on microwaves and doing everything as quickly as possible (driving somewhere, cooking, exercise, etc). I see so many people rushing to get to work, rushing to get their lunch in, rushing to the gym, and it's like what's the point! Certainly some days are more hectic than others but it's like... let's enjoy the journey. :)


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