I used to greet timesaving things like the microwave oven and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners with ignorant joy. Oh, goody! When I get home from work, dinner can be ready in six minutes!
Now, our secondhand microwave sits unused except for warming the occasional heat wrap. I don’t even microwave leftover coffee anymore, which makes me either overly paranoid or justifiably cautious.
Over the last two years I’ve migrated from being convinced I needed to nuke food, to viewing the appliance as a benign-looking household UXB awaiting my complicity to set it off.
It’s not like I didn’t know microwave ovens were “bad.“ I was vaguely aware that microwaving altered foods’ internal structure, degrading the nutritional value, and I’d heard about the potential danger from leaking microwave emissions. From my understanding, heating food always “degrades” its nutritional value, so this didn’t seem too worrisome (except for the escaping microwave emissions part of the warning, which I chose to ignore).
And microwaving is so much faster and easier. Plus, regulatory agencies wouldn’t allow anyone to sell a dangerous kitchen appliance, right? They do testing and safety checks.
I remember how thrilled homemakers were when widely available microwave ovens appeared in the 1970s. I suspect that most of us didn’t look such gilded gift horses too closely in the mouth, especially pre-Internet, when digging for information required savvy worthy of a multi-degreed librarian. If there were rotten teeth in there, we just didn’t know.
I, for one, don’t like to question the safety or efficacy of products that are touted as providing a healthier, easier, faster, or more convenient lifestyle. Admittedly, I’ve always been skeptical of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This is illogical, but drug manufacturers poisoning customers for profit doesn’t surprise me at all. Engineers and gizmo makers creating the Trojan horse of the microwave oven to subtly and slowly poison humans in our own homes just doesn’t compute.
Were there whistleblowers? Did a new hire at the R&D lab note the disruptive physiological effects of inadequately shielded microwave power on unsuspecting humans, or the degradation of the cooked food? Did they earnestly submit a report to higher-ups, and watch it go nowhere?
Once I overcame the mainstream programming that the microwave was a convenient necessity, I found it surprisingly enjoyable to heat comestibles the old-fashioned way, using our 20-year-old gas stovetop/range or the trusty little toaster oven.
I can pinpoint the moment when I went from “I probably should stop microwaving food” to “I’m not microwaving food anymore.” The precautionary verbiage on a bag of frozen raw chicken cat food caught my attention on that fateful day. I stood for a long time in Pet House holding the bag and contemplating the warning not to defrost or heat the chicken in the microwave oven since doing so would “diminish the nutritive value of the food.”
Why, I wondered, would the powers-that-be plonk this notation on pet food? I must not be the only person who read that and started thinking, if I’m not supposed to microwave food for my cat because it destroys nutrients, what does that say about the microwaved food I eat nearly every day?
That’s another of life‘s mysteries that I’ll probably never solve. Perhaps the don’t-nuke warning was a reverse Trojan horse, a head’s-up snuck onto packaging read by countless cat-loving consumers. A stealthy wakeup call for those ready to open their eyes.
I like to imagine the warning was instigated by one of those frustrated whistleblowers, one who ended up swapping R&D for pet food analysis and development, finally able to spread the word and do the good they wanted to do all along.