The day after Thanksgiving, our microwave oven died . There was no warning . One moment it was working ; the next moment there was a burnt smell and it just.. died. It reminded me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous poem ” The Wonderful One Hoss Shay ” which begins like this
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then of a sudden it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, –
Have you ever heard of that, I say?
The difference was that our microwave was twenty years old , not one hundred like the one hoss shay.The demise was just as instantaneous.
At first , we were not bothered . The old microwave had served us well and I had been thinking of replacing it even before it expired. What I ( and my wife ) hadn’t realized was how essential it had become to us . We soon found out.
In the mornings we heat up a half cup of milk in the microwave to use for the tea that we brew. Next morning , no microwave . We had to heat the milk on the stove . A pain in the butt and extra vessels to wash. At lunch ,we wanted to heat up some of the Thanksgiving leftovers . Again , no microwave . We had to heat them on the range . More time , more dishes to wash. And so it continued throughout the day. As soon as we could ,we rushed to Best Buy and got ourselves a new microwave . All’s well again !
This whole episode made me think how we unknowingly become dependent on our kitchen appliances, and the consequences of that dependency.
I remember how it was when we first got a refrigerator. Those born in America have never been without a refrigerator in their lives but, in India, refrigerators only became common in the fifties . My parents got their first refrigerator in 1956 or ’57 and were the first in our extended family to do so. They were also an object of derision because they did so. One aunt scoffed at them and wondered why they needed a fridge and what they could keep in it . Within a year , every one of my uncles had a fridge too and this same aunt was in raptures about hers.
Once having gotten a fridge , lifestyles changed. I read a perceptive piece on this subject in which the author spoke of how previously they used to get fresh vegetables at the market each day and cook them at the peak of freshness. With refrigerators , it became the norm to buy three or four days worth of vegetables at a time and store them in the fridge till needed . It saved the trouble of going to the market everyday but the food was no longer as fresh. Having a refrigerator also meant that people could store leftovers , and they did . Previously , people would buy just what they needed for the day and cook it immediately ; if any was left over , it would be given away to beggars. With the advent of the refrigerator,people became less frugal and less charitable .
Refrigerators are a necessity rather than a luxury. In these modern times , we cannot go to market everyday ; nor can we cook just enough for our needs each day. The influence of microwave ovens , however, is more pernicious. In millions of American homes , ” cooking ” means heating up a frozen , pre-cooked meal in the microwave . There is no other way to explain the statistic that the average time American housewives spend on making dinner for their families is 29 minutes. 29 minutes !! In spite of the popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, I firmly believe most people in this country don’t know or don’t want to cook. So much easier to use the microwave !! Is it any wonder then we rely on processed foods and, as a nation , are plagued by obesity?
This is not to decry refrigerators and microwave ovens . They have their place in the kitchen ; it’s only that some of us seem to have forgotten how to use them wisely.