Microwave Suspicion

More thoughts from the microwave ...

Cutting Edge Technology: The Amana Radarange.

Last week, I wrote about Microwave Orphans and a trait my sisters and I inherited from my mother. We leave things in the microwave, beeping, and forgotten. When we're together for reunions or visits, our shared microwave forgetfulness becomes humorous. "Who left their tea in the microwave?" (Some of you admitted to the same tendency.)

My family had other microwave dysfunctions.

Our first microwave oven arrived in the kitchen of my childhood, in a cardboard box. My Dad unloaded it on the bright blue counter, next to the refrigerator. He plugged it in. We stared in amazement.

At that time, they were called Radaranges. I don't know why. 'Maybe because 'radar' sounded very space age?

An Accidental Discovery. Apparently microwave technology was discovered accidentally back in 1945. A self-taught engineer from Maine was doodling around building active radar magnetrons for his company when he noticed that a peanut chocolate bar in his pocket had started to melt. The radar microwaves had melted his candy bar. From there, the first food to be intentionally cooked by microwave was popcorn, then an egg, which as you can imagine, exploded directly in the face of one of the technicians. To verify his food heating findings, Percy Spencer created a high density electromagnetic field and confined the microwave power in a metal box. When food was placed in the box with the microwave energy, the temperature of the food rose rapidly. Years later ... we now have the microwave oven.

Our first microwave arrived back in the late 1970's. It had big dials -- no buttons. Each dial turned to set the cook time. ( I found this picture of the exact model, on Craigslist).

Kitchen Science. It was an unwieldy appliance and it took a while to learn how to use it without ruining food. But, wow, it sure was fun to sit and watch what happened when the heat got going. My sisters, brother and I alternately experimented with boiling water, melting marshmallows, hot dogs, bread, cheese, potatoes. Bread wilted and hardened like a sponge. Hot dogs split and puckered. Potatoes morphed into rocks and exploded. Eggs exploded, too. Cheese melted into liquid like the time lapse reel-to-reel movies they showed in 5th grade science class.

Not that we got to watch it all happen, directly. We saw the process only in 'before' and 'after' segments. Why? Because, when my Dad unloaded the rocket-ship radarange on the bright blue kitchen counter, my Mom also laid out her precautionary microwave instructions.

Stand Back. In order to use this new technology safely, we were instructed to load the food, shut the door, set the time, hit the cook button, and step around to the other side of the refrigerator like an x-ray lab technician who sets up a patient and steps behind a shielding wall. We protested and rolled our eyes at Mom's over-concern.

Her radiation worries floated around the kitchen. The power of the microwave wasn't fully understood. And maybe, just maybe, those radar waves could cause sterility or reproductive cancer in women. Maybe we'd end up barren. And, no one would know for years to come. So, in absence of a heavy leaded apron, we sighed about Mom's hovering caution and compliantly stepped around to the other side of the fridge.

With time and familiarity, all caution was lost. Eventually, we stopped stepping around the fridge. A couple years in, we got to stand and watch the cheese melt, start to finish.

The 21st Century Version. Now, as a mom, I have more compassion for my mom's concern about the radarange and our reproductive organs. Turns out, radarange cancer was a false alarm. Sure enough. 'Proof that it's hard to predict the dangers of new technology. As a kid, I didn't understand the fridge exercise. But now, as I watch a constant sea of evolving technologies whirl around my sons, I get my mom's issue.

Used to be, things like 8 track players, Atari or Intellevison would appear on the scene once every couple years, just in time for Christmas. Now, new tech possibilities flow through homes like electronic air current -- iPad, iPhone, wii, youTube, Facebook, PS2, avatars, google maps, Hulu -- electric gadgets and information are our society's constant clamour. They beckon for time and beg for our full attention -- like the melting marshmallow and exploding egg. And now, years after our first microwave was plugged into the wall, I have my own hovering concerns.

My kids roll their eyes at me, the same way I rolled mine at my Mom. And I'm left wishing it were possible to know, for certain, when it's necessary for my kids to 'step behind the refrigerator'.

Only time will tell.


Rachel said...

Love your posts.

Happy Day to you! :)