Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Microwave: I just Can't Seem to Give it Up

The safety of cooking in a microwave has been a debate that's gone on for as long as I can remember. Some claim there is absolutely no danger, as long as the seals are all intact, others claim that radiation leaks out and helps cause cancer (heck, the same waves come from our cell phones and our WiFi. Unless we live in a tech-free zone, we are apparently doomed anyway!).

This article --clickable-- (a really depressing read, but worth checking out) discusses the suspected dangers of microwaves, and also states we may be zapping nutrients right out of food when we cook with microwaves. UGH. In fact, the article states we are 'violently ripping the molecules in food apart, rendering some nutrients inert, at best, and carcinogenic at its worst'. Um, Yikes?

I cringed while reading that article, and I admit--I looked at my little magical zapping oven and wondered for a moment if I was doing more harm than good by using it.

On the other hand, other sources claim there is no harm at all in using a microwave. I picked up an amazing book not too long ago called Cooking Green that is filled to the brim with awesome energy saving tips. The author wrote about using the microwave instead of the oven for many tasks in order to save massive amounts of energy. She also had a snippet about the debated safety of microwaves and claimed that the studies giving microwaves a bad name are misleading.

What's a person to believe about microwaves, with the conflicting 'facts'?

In those romantic homesteading daydreams I get, the ones where I've cut out as many gadgets as possible and live as simply as I can, I imagine warming up my leftovers on my woodstove. My imaginary woodstove that keeps our house warm with imaginary wood stacked out back. Much like Jenna Woginrich (hero of mine) describes in her latest book, One-Woman Farm:
"If I have any leftovers from last night's dinner, I don't fuss with the stove in the kitchen. I just slide the crock of mac-n-cheese or leftover soup into the Bun Baker's lower oven. Soon it'll be warming up with the same energy source I knew so intimately back in June, when I was out there splitting that seasoned locust, sweat running out of my pores like out of a tap."

Ahhhh, if only my imaginary woodstove were real. Someday, maybe.

But let's be honest. Even if I had my warm, dreamy woodstove right now, how hard would it be to give up my microwave? This family gave up their microwave and is not looking back. I give them kudos, definitely. Would I be able to? Okay, wrong question--of course I'd be able to. But would I want to take away that convenience?

I cook for 5 in our family, plus however many daycare children I have for the day (in the summer, this can be up to 7 extra kids). Breakfast, lunch, supper. The food for all these mouths, for the majority of meals, comes from one kitchen. One little kitchen with a half-broken stove, a few helpful gadgets, and a trusty microwave.

In my quest to prepare healthier food, the microwave really has fallen by the wayside quite a bit. We don't really buy prepackaged microwave meals or snacks. However, I DO rely on our microwave to make eating healthy easier.

These are my top reasons why giving up my microwave would be very difficult:

  • Steamed veggies, like broccoli? 2 minutes and splash of water in a bowl, compared to at least 10 minutes and a cup of water on the stove. According to the scary article above, I'm just ripping the nutrients in my broccoli apart, so there's that. But not every expert thinks I'm destroying my food with the microwave. Getting yummy veggies on the table simply is a huge convenience for me.

  • Coffee cold? 30 seconds in the microwave. (I know I'm not the only one who gets busy and sometimes reheats coffee 3 or more times...)

  • Brown Bag Popcorn? Yes, please! We don't want the nasty chemical stuff, but don't always have time for stovetop. 

  • Frozen harvest. Yes, I could think ahead and set out my frozen tomatoes the night before, but when I have a pot of chili that needs glut sauce right now, at the last minute, thawing the hard-as-a-rock-container in the microwave for a couple minutes is a huge help.

  • Breakfast. Oh my goodness, breakfast. Egg casserole made ahead and rewarmed, and plain old rolled oats with raisins are two things specifically. When we are rushed in the morning already, I wonder if we'd rely on crappy food if we didn't have the microwave to help us make something more healthy, quickly.
  • Lunch. Same as breakfast...the microwave can be a godsend. So many lovely foods prepared ahead and frozen, easily rewarmed in the microwave. Soups do fine warmed up from the freezer in a pot, but little squares of casseroles or pastas just warm up so much better in the microwave!

Those are the top reasons why the idea of giving up my microwave makes me take pause. I thought of another one just now: potatoes. Talk about a quick way to bake sweet and regular potatoes! These reasons are mostly NOT for eating junky microwave food, but for easier prep of real, healthy food. To me, that reason alone is huge. Many of my homesteading buddies do well and fine without a microwave, and all confusing health information aside, just freeing up that space on the counter would be really helpful for some of my other cooking tasks. I just feel like we rely on it too much right now to justify throwing it out.

Last fall our microwave broke, and we were so used to the ease and convenience of having one, those few days until we could buy a new one were like torture. So many more dirty dishes and pans, longer time spent cooking things on the stove. Leftovers dried out warmed in the oven. I'm sure, given enough time without, we would adjust. But I think I would fight it and complain every step of the way.

After heading to a big-box store and purchasing yet another microwave that I knew would probably break in 6 months to a year anyway (they really don't make these things like they used to--my parents had their first microwave from the 80s for almost twenty years), I told myself; "Next time. When this one breaks, I'll reexamine this issue. But for now...good golly, I need my coffee kept warm and my daily oatmeal with as little effort as possible."

Do you still have a microwave, or have you done without? I'm so curious how many people have decided that it's one modern convenience they just don't need...or maybe are afraid to use.


  1. We have a microwave. We use it occasionally. And I worry about it EVERY time! I can totally relate. It's so not worth the worry, yet I don't get rid of it! I probably won't end up throwing it out until it breaks, but I also don't think I'll replace it when it does. And about that wood stove, keep it on your list of things to get, it's on the top of our list for this year. This is my first Winter without one and I really miss it! I would gladly trade my microwave for one! :)

    1. I am always making the kids get away from it when it's running. I'm just so dependent on that darn thing! And yeah, I would just love to have that woodstove... :)

  2. We live with out a microwave, and have been for many years. I do not miss it. I think pop corn was the only thing that took us sometime to adjust. It is all a matter of getting used to it.

    1. Anna, I think popcorn will be one of my biggest adjustments if we ever decide to be done with the microwave. I sure could use the counter space, all other debates aside! ;)