Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Wave to the Microwave

"Do you want to go out for lunch?" Sharon came walking briskly to my desk yesterday and stopped giving me an edgy glance.

"Sure", I said locking my screen, "I was going to pick up a salad anyway. Did not have any leftovers to get in."

"So what happened? No lunch from home today?” I asked as we strolled towards the elevator.

Sharon and I have a ritual of going out for lunch every Monday. The Japanese restaurant Tsushima(which sounds delightfully like Tushima) round the block serves it's Sashimi special on Mondays. We both love Sashimi. Since we eat out on Mondays, we usually give Tuesday a rest and get food from home. At least Sharon does. Hence the mild curiosity from my end.

She gave me a sheepish smile.

"I had leftovers but somehow I don't feel like heating it in the microwave any more"

"Aha!... Now it falls into place - The microwave and the email"

Yes the email. Nothing earth-shattering in essence. Just another forward warning against the dangers of microwave cooking. The stuff that normal folks read and forget about or put aside as a reserve topic for the times when a drawing room conversation dips into awkward silences. But then our team here at work is not normal from any angle. To put it very mildly, we are a health conscious bunch.

How? Let me give you a brief idea.....

We don't consume any snack until we dissect it's contents to the last molecule. How much trans fat, any partially hydrogenated oils, whole grain or refined grain, how many grams of fat, of carbs.... etc. etc. Unlike any other desi/chinese/russian dominated teams, we don't discuss deals on deal2buy.com and we don't compare prices between Wal-Mart and BJs and we don't talk about trips to Niagara falls, instead we compare calories and nutrition value between various cookie brands, talk about trips to ayurvedic dieticians, Chinese health food shops and discuss natural food therapies. When we eat out we order brown-rice and whole wheat pasta and birthday ice-cream parties have slowly been replaced with organic yogurt parties at Yorganic a chain that preys on people of our ilk. The earlier emails of 'Cake at my desk, please drop by' have been taken over by 'Blueberries at my desk, please drop by' In the short we are a case of collective health related OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

Honestly we are not that bad, at least at an individual level. We all have enough bad eating stints. But together, we just lose it somehow.

The few stragglers who come to our team with normal eating habits are transformed eventually. Poor Santosh valiantly fought for his right to drink soda so much so that he left a collection of empty soda bottles neatly lined on his desk when he quit the company. We think it was his form of protest against the health mafia. After all we constantly dragged him to healthy Chinese eating instead of oily sambhar-dosa that he craved and it was his farewell where we first discovered the pleasures of Yorganic over Ben N Jerry.

So when a group like this receives a forward that speaks of the molecule altering effects of microwave cooking, what happens? Before we describe that here is a short synopsis of the mail

- A high school experiment conducted on a set of plants that were watered using microwaved water and normal water showed that microwaved water eventually killed the plant.

- A patient who was given blood warmed in a microwave died during the transfusion because the microwaving altered the structure of the blood.

- The nutrients in a food item get mutated and are rendered useless when you heat food in the microwave.

So that's the issue in a nutshell. You can read more about it here

The grand revelation has caused low key but visible reactions in our circuit. Sharon and I have been eating out since then. Shiv has been considering giving up heating his food and I noticed Ajay heading to the other side of the room to get hot water from the dispenser rather than heating it to prepare his tea. The low-key reaction is not surprising, even in a health-freaked group like ours. Given the ubiquitous nature of the microwave it is difficult to completely wave it off.

And therein lies the dilemma. A person is regularly is exposed to alarmist revelations about items in the everyday life. The growth hormones in dairy products, the pesticides, the radiation of the cell-phones, trace of plastics and now, the microwave. The problem is not so much with the initial information, but with the confusion it creates. For any given theory there are countless counter theories. The official health bulletins maintain that the effect of these substances is negligible (e.g in the case of organic food), but headlines scream otherwise. There is always the insinuation of the nexus between the industry and the powers that be. So where does this leave the average consumer? Completely confused!

These so called objects of harm are an intrinsic part of our daily lives. How much can one really avoid these items. For instance I can chose to not use the microwave at home and work, but how do I know the food I eat in the restaurant has not been nicked? Sharon and I are not gaining anything in eating out apart from peace of mind. The only way one can truly live a pollutant free life is to chuck it all and find a piece of land in the mountains and grow everything on a farm (let me confess I grew potted capsicum this summer in organic soil). Even there you cannot avoid pollution through the soil and air. There really is no practical solution. Yet we keep going in circles trying to find one like a dog trying to catch his tail.

We cannot really be blamed for it. With time and technology we have moved on to a way of life that is completely different from the way it was thirty years ago. While these advancements have bought physical comfort into our lives there has been a counter balance with many difficult to treat diseases becoming more common, many unanswerable ailments for which modern sciences are silent. Auto-immune diseases are a good example. We are obviously looking for answers and somewhere down the line we have connected all modern diseases to modern lifestyles. While such an approach could be partially correct, there is still a larger picture that escapes many of the doomsday soothsayers.

Let me give an example. Modern medicine is a favourite punching bag in the current times. Alternate medicine is the buzz-word and people flock such practitioners (anyone who lives in India or visited it recently and witnessed the Swami Ramdev wave would agree with that). It is common to hear people talk about the healthy life-styles of their grandfather’s generation. We assume that a generation before that would be even healthier since they primarily depended upon natural products and lived active lives. Yet trends show a different picture. Life expectancy is on a rise, despite the pesticides, despite the synthetic products, despite the hormones and yes, despite the microwave. So our complete health package then is definitely improving. We might have lost some, but apparently we have gained a lot more.

Yet, we have never been as paranoid about our health as we are now. The more junk we eat, the more we talk about healthy alternatives. It is like sinners making the most frequent trips to the temple. Speaking of myself, I regularly tankup on sinful desserts and unhealthy sweets, however my dairy is all organic, I eat only whole wheat bread and don't use plastics in the microwave and now….. the very existence of my microwave is in question.

Talking of microwaves, I have an interesting track record I would like to share with you. I have possessed four of them in the last couple of years. My first microwave was a still-born. It passed away on on its first use in a party. I had my guests of that evening help me dispose it off. After a few blissful months of microwavelessness some friends in their infinite wisdom gifted me with another one. So there we were, a new microwave. This one had a better run. I used it a couple of times to cook rice and boil water. Everything was fine till one day I decided I wanted to boil an egg. That was the end of it! I resumed my cheerful microwaveless state till another friend passed me a tiny used one (I don't know what it is with my friends and their need to provide me with microwaves, with all the new evidence surfacing I am beginning to suspect a conspiracy theory here). That one had a dream run till I forgot it on the countertop when I moved apartments. My latest specimen is another hand-me-down and is working perfectly(helping me to conclude that I am worthy only of hand-me-downs). So as you can see the place of a stable microwave in my life has been achieved after many breakups(downs). Yet, it seems it is time to let go again.

Anyone interested in a third hand microwave oven?



  1. and you actually believe that the places you eat at, give you food fresh off the stove and it is not microwaved?

    come on ritu!

    que sera sera...

  2. Paaji

    That bit about a patient dying during a blood transfusion because of microwaved blood, seems a bit over the top.

  3. why were the microwaving blood anyway??????

  4. @ anonymous : To warm it before a transfusion!