In this installment of our Town & Country series, Margaret and Katherine discuss the role of the microwave and convenience foods in their kitchens.
When my boyfriend and I moved into our current apartment, neither of us owned a microwave. Our nice but tiny kitchen didn’t come outfitted with one (few New York City apartments are), and as we made our list of things to buy it wasn’t a priority. We decided to live without a microwave for a few months and then decide if we needed one.
Nearly a year later, we’ve forgotten about a microwave altogether. It’s clear that we neither have the space nor the desire for this appliance. Like a bread maker or a waffle iron, it’s a gadget that’s totally unnecessary for us. The stovetop and oven serve our cooking needs just fine, and the electric kettle gets daily use for making tea and coffee.
The microwave and the convenience foods that are cooked in them promise to save us time, but I rarely feel that cooking would take me less time if I had one. Yet this reflects how I already ate: few heavily processed items, with mostly fresh ingredients, and making most meals from scratch. There are plenty of healthy vegetable dishes that could be made in a microwave, but the foods that really require a microwave – frozen burritos come to mind – just aren’t part of my diet.
Even when I had access to a microwave, I used it to cook very little. The leftovers I might have put in the microwave before can usually be re-heated in a saucepan. Those single-serving microwave mug brownies look delicious on Pinterest, I also have to ask myself if I really need another way to eat dessert. If I want a brownie that badly, I could get it from the bakery on the corner.
If we want to make a smaller impact on the environment we need, individually and collectively, to decide how much stuff we really need to be happy, healthy and productive. For each person, that calculation may a be different, but I can assure you that we don’t all need every appliance made by Krups and KitchenAid.
I’ll never forget the day my mother came home with an ancient-looking microwave that a friend was throwing away. It was the early ‘90s and, for my technology-free family, adding a microwave to the household was a big deal. For a few weeks, we all looked for reasons to use the exciting new-to-us appliance, but then its novelty wore off and my mom spent most of the time yelling at us kids not to stand in front of the microwave “or else you’ll get zapped.” Mom’s initial enthusiasm turned into a constant fear that we’d all get radiated. One day that decrepit beast of a microwave disappeared and my parents never got another one.
When my husband and I bought a house four years ago, it came with a large microwave installed above the stove. It’s a permanent installation that includes ventilation and lights for the stove, which means it couldn’t be taken out without a whole lot of hassle, so we left it there.
The microwave may have seen its glory days with previous owners, but now it sits empty for long periods of time. It’s the most useless appliance in the house – even our waffle maker gets used more frequently – and I swear if it took up a single square inch of counter space, it would be gone in the blink of an eye.
Aside from that brief interval in my childhood, everything I learned about cooking did not involve a microwave. As a result I default to the ‘old-fashioned’ ways of doing things and rarely remember its specialized functions even exist. I make popcorn on the stove in a pot with hot oil. I reheat bread in a slightly damp paper bag if the oven’s already on. I bake full batches of muffins and brownies, rather than make individual portions. I reheat leftovers in a pot and steam vegetables in a steamer basket on the stove. I melt chocolate in a double boiler and butter in a small pot. I take meat out of the freezer ahead of time, so I don’t have to defrost it in the microwave.
And, like Margaret already said, I don’t think any of these tasks takes me much longer than if I were to use the microwave (besides defrosting meat, which is no work as long as I remember to take it out in time).
I realize that the usefulness of a microwave depends on one’s individual cooking style, but because my family and I don’t eat any frozen convenience foods, the microwave really doesn’t belong in our kitchen.