Another Change of Life

Those of us born before 1945 were born before television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, plastic, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees, and the Pill. We were born before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams, ballpoint pens, pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes, and microwave ovens. We know the meaning of change. With few regrets, most of us said goodbye to curtain stretchers, wood cook stoves, and chamber pots, but have been sanguine about changes in things in which we have a vested interest. Computers were good until they frustrated us or misplaced money in our checking accounts, and robots were exciting tools before they took away our jobs. Perhaps nowhere has the Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde attitude toward change been more striking than toward the two major appliances used in the preparation of our food--the conventional oven and the microwave oven.

In our day, "Made in Japan" meant junk, a chip meant a piece of wood. McDonald's and Hardee's were unheard of, and Betty Crocker was still baking cakes in her own, made-in-the-USA, conventional oven. We all had our state-of-the-art conventional ovens for our baking as well. We also had a routine that was as much a part of our existence as bathing and brushing our teeth. It was a simple routine: preheat the oven fifteen minutes before cooking, bake everything that was not to be boiled or fried, and make sure the oven was turned off after use. This routine was followed for three meals a day. Using the conventional oven, those of my generation prepared thousands of meals requiring thousands of hours of cooking time.

We thought fast food was what was eaten during Lent, "micro" was Black slang for macaroni, and a wave was what one got at the beauty shop. Suddenly, in the wake of Sputnik, out nation's scientific world brought about many drastic changes that would affect every aspect of our living. We could not have imagined that an appliance, called a microwave oven, could produce radio waves between one millimeter and one meter in wavelength and could concentrate these radio waves to produce enough heat to cook our food. Vast markets for new microwaveable foods, containers, and recipes came into existence. "Microwave oven" soon became a household term. No longer were we slaves to the conventional oven with its slow cooking performance. No longer would we spend many of our awake hours cooking. We were set free from hours of food preparation. The microwave oven could sit on the counter top, taking up no more space than the conventional bread box, thus saving space as well as time. What a space saver! Who would have ever imagined that such a compact appliance would revolutionize the popping of popcorn and the baking of potatoes--sealing each product's unique flavor.

In the midst of the excitement of this modern-day product, we were inevitably faced with certain disadvantages. Although the microwave saved much time in the preparation of food, it did not adequately compensate for the sometimes tough meats, overcooked vegetables, and lightly browned breads. Disappointed with our new-found appliance, many of us looked upon our old trustworthy companion--the conventional oven.

Larger than the space-saving microwave, the conventional oven could cook an entire meal, accommodating a roast, a casserole, muffins, and a pie on the side. The texture, flavor, and aroma of the food would excite the most disinterested palate, costing only a few extra cents on the electrical and gas bills.

In our day, "grass" was mowed, "coke" was a cold drink, and "pot" was something one cooked in. "Rock music" was a Grandma's lullaby, and "aids" were helpers in the principal's office. Today, "yo" means hello, "blood" means kin, "cool" means acceptable, "hood" means one's community, and "crib" is a house. Words themselves have not changed, only their meanings.

Change in our modern technological world is inevitable, and its effect has filtered over into our personal lives, confronting us with advantages as well as disadvantages. The use of the conventional oven in comparison to the microwave oven is a prime example. Nevertheless, both of these appliances have their places in our kitchen, depending on the need at hand. Like contemporary situations, a "quick fix" or a Band-Aid is convenient, but not always the best answer, especially when long- term effects or permanent healing is sought.

Wyonnie Hardee