Minimalism Meets the Microwave

The microwave oven is one of those marvels of modern convenience that even after 73 years in existence is still the subject of controversy. Just the other day, I saw a post on Facebook about how microwaving broccoli removes 98% of its nutrients. (That’s not exactly true, by the way. Cooking broccoli by any method, especially those involving water, removes some of the nutrients.) There are folks who stand firmly in the anti-microwave camp because of the potential of certain plastics to release harmful chemicals when heated. There are others who believe microwaving can increase carcinogens in our food. On the other side, there are folks who swear microwaves are not only safe, but they are the healthiest way to cook.

Personally, here’s what I believe – the microwave is a giant piece of counter clutter (at least in our home) that serves zero purpose beyond reheating leftovers. Seriously, I’ve looked at our microwave just sitting there for the past 4 years, spending most of its days as a timer for whatever we’re cooking on the stove. So, one morning, while Angie was cleaning up the kitchen, I mentioned ditching the microwave. “Let’s do it!” she said.

We posted the microwave on Marketplace and within an hour, it was gone. Our counter now looks like this:

I’m not advocating that everyone ditches their microwave. I am, however, suggesting that we ditch clutter, whatever form that clutter may take. In this scenario, the word “microwave” could just as easily be replaced by any number of things. Do you have too many dishes? One too many televisions? Maybe an end table that’s only purpose is to serve as a clutter catch-all? Those are the things I recommend ditching. In our case, it just happened to be the microwave.

Several years ago, we stopped using the microwave except to reheat certain leftovers, like rice or pasta. This was a decision we made based on our own research and a desire to eat better. At the time, we were moving away from processed foods, including microwavable convenience meals and side dishes. Though microwaving itself might be safe, processed foods definitely are not and neither are most of the plastics that they come in. A package might say BPA-free, but there are many, many other chemicals in microwavable packaging, such as glues and dyes that can potentially be harmful. And don’t even get me started on microwave popcorn! That stuff is bad on so many levels!

Around the time that we stopped using our microwave, we also bought a hot-air popcorn popper. I can honestly say, I now prefer the flavor of lightly-salted hot air popcorn over any other (including the sinfully delicious and ridiculously overpriced popcorn at the movie theater). We also started batch cooking so that we could avoid answering the question of “what do you want for lunch?” with something quickly zapped in the microwave. Today, we make a huge pot of soup or chili once a week and that serves as lunch most days. We usually pair it with a salad or a grilled veggie quesadilla. And of course, in a pinch, we rely on the most steadfast of lunch menu choices, a good ole peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Aside from quick meals, we also used our microwave for melting butter for baking, quickly thawing foods, and heating water for tea, but even those have substitutes. I’ve started heating the butter (which is now vegan butter) in a ramekin while the oven is preheating. We try to remember to set out frozen foods early enough to thaw or we put them in water to speed up the process. And heating water – well, you can do that on the stove. Without the microwave, things do take a bit longer, but when I consider the pace at which we want our life to go, there really is no reason to rush. We can wait a few extra minutes for a great cup of tea.

It has been nearly a month since we sold the microwave and neither of us has missed it. The internet, yes, but not the microwave. This tells me that it really was just a piece of counter clutter that needed to be removed and I kind of wish we’d done it sooner.

Do you have a microwave? What, if any, modern conveniences have you decided to live without?

Happy Dumpster-versary!

I stopped by Walmart the other day to pick up some things for my mom. As I was crossing the parking lot, headed back to my car, I saw a lone orange that had come to rest just a few feet away. Or course, I picked it up. I have no idea how or why oranges (and sometimes apples) end up at the south end of the Walmart parking lot, mostly unaffected by their rather long journey across bumpy and grimy asphalt, but I find at least 1 or 2 a month. In the way that hobos mark the homes of people who are kind, Angie teases that fresh fruit escapes the waste bin and make its way to the area where I’m known to park so that I will give it a good home.

As I picked up the orange, it hit me…February was our food-rescue anniversary. We’ve been digging through the dumpster at ALDI (which is next door to Walmart) for two years now. While we make no secret of this fact, I also realized just how few people in our immediate family know that we do this. For a minute, I started feeling like a superhero – a plain-Jane writer by day who dons a cape and saves food from the landfill by night. Ok, I don’t own a cape…yet…

Imagining us as dumpster heroes was all well and good until I started thinking about why the world needs dumpster heroes in the first place – because we waste so much food! And by we, I mean everyone from the farmer who leaves crops in the field to the stores who throw out good food items to make room for newer ones every week, from the consumer who buys more than what he/she can eat to the restauranteurs that feed the garbage bin rather than their hungry neighbors. Picking up a single orange off the pavement is just a tiny droplet on the surface of a big, big pond of problems.

But…it only takes a droplet to cause a ripple, then ripples create waves, and waves create change.

We dig through the dumpster for many reasons, not the least of which is to raise awareness of the amount of food wasted by retailers like ALDI. Don’t get me wrong, I like ALDI. My sister even works for them (at a different location) and we shop there sometimes, but I hate their policy of tossing food that’s within 3 days of expiration. It’s stupid. It’s even stupider not to mark these items down and try to sell them, like Kroger and Walmart do. I can’t imagine preferring to take a total loss on a product rather than selling it for half-price.  From a business standpoint, that makes no sense to me.

In 2017, we rescued 330 pounds of food from the dumpster. In 2018, it was 348 pounds. And this year, we’re up to 50 pounds already. We eat this food. We share this food. We donate this food to places that can use it. And in the rare case that none of these things happen, we compost this food.

We don’t expect everyone reading this to run to the nearest dumpster and start pulling out produce…unless you really want to, then we certainly support you…but we do hope you will make your own waves of change toward reducing food waste. Here are a few ideas to help get you started: