Tuesday, October 21, 2003
posted by Julie |
Considering life without microwave ovens
I had a good laugh today. I was reading a great user review of my favorite dieting software offered up by an Irish reader on the Skinny Daily discussion board at 3Fatchicks.com. She noted that while the food database in the software was really very good, she was taken by the bias toward frozen foods included in it. She asked, "Don't you people cook anymore?"
Hmm. I sure don't cook the way I used to. Does anybody?
I remembered that when I visited Ireland, the grocers were much smaller, and the packaged food options were very slim. You could get ready-to-heat pizza, but not much else unless you went to the city. But that was alright, because we couldn't use the microwave oven in our cottage without blowing a fuse.
No microwave. We had to put previously unprepared food in pots and pans on top of the stove, and turn it on. Put things on pans in the oven, and wait. It filled the whole cottage with cooking smells. A vague memory from our collective childhood began to stir. We were almost all over 40 in that cottage. But the memories were too faded to recall completely. It left a nice feeling, an impression that almost materialized while waiting for dinner and smelling it on the stove.
So I recently looked up an answer to her question. No, we people don't cook anymore. But we used to.
We used to cook our meals, on the stove, in the kitchen. Today we reheat frozen blocks of food cooked by large companies while we watch other people cook on the Food Network. Or we wait in line at work to radiate our food. Or we nuke it up in the hotel room microwave, the dorm room microwave. We don't have to go far to find a food reheating device.
Once or twice a month, we take all of our pent up cooking skills out for a spin, when we have people over, or on holidays. This rusty cooking is the source of both great comedy and our very high divorce rate.
We are very busy renovating our kitchens, installing all the latest in convection ovens and super high btu burners so that we can serve up toasted bagels and microwaved macaroni and cheese. Our Calphalon pans hang gorgeously from hooks over our marble islands. How do you keep them so clean, our grandmothers ask? We shrug and pull the plastic bag of veggies out of the microwave. Why, you just dust them once in awhile. Of course.
Well, it turns out there may be problems with eating too much reheated food. For one thing, the food scientists have to add stuff to that food or alter it in interesting ways to make it safe to travel through their plants, wait in their freezers, travel on trucks, move through grocery stores, and then wait in your freezer for who-knows-how-long before you radiate it and then eat it or feed it to your family.
Of course they're as careful as they can be to make sure what they add and do to your food is as safe as possible, but many of the additives are really hard on a lot of us, especially young kids, and especially when consumed a lot over time.
We won't know what sort of effects all this highly handled food has on our bodies for awhile. Another generation and a lot more tests will tell, but we do know that a lot of people are developing or exhibit allergies to MSG, sulfites, nitrates, and other food preservatives. Watch those labels.
And while heating or reheating, the food may absorb chemicals from plastic containers and food wraps. Use glass cookware, if using your own, or read the packaging instructions carefully.
And finally, microwaves don't cook as evenly as does a plain old stove. Leaving cold spots in your meat can be dangerous, bacteriologically speaking. So especially when cooking meats, be sure your food is cooked through and hot enough to insure its safety.
Try giving up the microwave. An experiment. Try unplugging it for a week. Just one week. Consider for one week giving up packaged food.
Try a week on whole foods you wash, prepare, and cook with your family. Everyone participates. Go ahead and use the convenience foods like already washed and prepared lettuce, veggies and fruits that are flash frozen with no additives. Make it easy on yourself by choosing meats that cook very quickly. Fish and pork chops, chicken breasts. Consider stir-fried meals using beans and nuts, casseroles you can assemble in the morning and pop in the oven as you walk through the door. Or save your cooking for the weekends, and freeze up pasta dishes and soups of your own making.
Give your older kids the job of prepping vegetables so they learn how it's done. Put on music, use the time to hear about their day.
Make cooking with your sweetie a romantic sport.
Cook for yourself, because you deserve great meals.
Try just one week without the microwave. When your week is over, consider whether you really save time with this device, and whether the time is time worth saving. Consider whether the experience of buying, touching, smelling, cleaning, cooking, and sharing a meal isn't more fulfilling and actually more filling, when done with time and care. Whether anticipating a meal makes it stick to your ribs a bit longer.
When you plug it back in, you can relegate the microwave to use as a prep tool. It's good for things like melting butter, reheating the rice, softening the gelatin. Put it in its place.
Consider a return to cooking, people.
If you're going to micro, be careful
The history of frozen food according to the American Frozen Food Institute
About microwaving from the Institute of Food Technologists
FDA on leaching of chemicals from wraps and packaging into food
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