Kill Your Microwave, I Dare Ya

04/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I grew up in the golden era of the microwave (an era you might call the '80s but which I myself call "middle school'). People were momentarily so excited about ye olde heating box, they were buying cookbooks about how you could cook everything in the microwave--before they discovered that age old lesson that just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Ever tried to cook a chicken in a microwave? Blech.

After Alice Waters pooh-poohed microwaves on "60 Minutes" last week, people started asking what's so bad about a microwave anyway? Was it her chef-i-ness that made her averse to microwaves or her environmentalism? If it's environmentalism, she might be forsaking it for naught. An excellent post over at Treehugger explored these questions, pointing out that most experts agree that a microwave is actually very energy efficient; firing up your stove for every little melting job doesn't make sense.

As a city dweller who has lived with mostly teeny, tiny kitchens, I killed my microwave years ago when I moved into a studio apartment. Counter space was precious and a big plastic box meant no room to chop veggies, so I gave it to a friend, wondering as I did so if I'd miss it terribly. I never did. Once, about three weeks after I moved, I wanted to melt some chocolate for brownies. I unwrapped the chocolate, put it in a pyrex bowl, and cast my eyes about the small kitchen, confused and forlorn. So I pulled out a pot, put the chocolate in the pot, and once I realized that "hey! You can, like, heat stuff on the stove!" I never looked back. It turns out that if you are not reheating homemade baby food, and you don't eat frozen dinners, there aren't that many times you actually need one.

Plus, I like interacting with my food. I am reminded of a Harold McGee article in the NY Times just about a year ago. He wrote from his kitchen science perspective about cooking with your microwave, addressing its inability to be all things to all people, but gamely trying to find its culinary virtues.

I finished the article unconvinced. For me, slow food isn't about being anti-microwave, but I do think it's about knowing your food; McGee talked about pine nuts cooking on the inside but not browning on the outside (the whole point of toasting pine nuts), and the strangeness of needing to keep opening and closing the microwave door to assess the state of affairs, and it makes me think that a microwave gets in the way of that knowing.