June 11, 2007

Microwaved Food: Healthy Alternative or Satan's Snack?

Crabby recently received an email from a health & fitness blogger at another site (FitSugar?), urging her to participate in a Boycott or Protest or something against the use of Microwave Ovens.

"Microwave Free Fridays," Crabby thinks it was called, but unfortunately she deleted the email before she realized she wanted to write a post about it.

These people are no doubt very nice and very well-intentioned, but to Crabby, the whole idea sounded, well, kind of silly.

Why are we supposed to be boycotting Microwave Ovens? Apparently because of this pronouncement by Professor Jane Wardle, who blames the invention of the microwave for our current problems with obesity.

Here's what Wardle has to say:

"I looked at the figures showing rates of obesity in the population over many years and it seem very clear it began between 1984 and 1987."

"So then we looked at what changes were going on in the food and activity world at that time and one of the striking changes was there were differences in the speed with which we could prepare a meal as a consequence of the introduction of microwaves."

Oh fer cryin' out loud.

Wait, Crabby has a better theory: Frankie Goes To Hollywood had a song called "Relax" that was a big hit during these years--coincidence? Or was it part of a conspiracy with the Microwave Oven People to make sure everyone "Relaxed" and stopped bothering to exercise and eat healthy ever again?

Or maybe obesity and modern lifestyles are complicated issues that don't have a single cause, let alone such a dopey one?

Part of the reason the idea seems silly to Crabby is because microwave ovens can just as easily heat up healthy stuff as unhealthy stuff. In fact microwaves enable you to make large quantities of healthy soups and stews and casseroles, freeze them, and then heat them up again in a few quick minutes. As opposed to popping out to McDonalds or Pizza Hut for a meal.

Crabby will occasionally even eat a microwaved frozen entree for lunch (though they're not quite tasty enough for dinner, a meal she looks forward to a bit more). A little high on sodium, perhaps, but again, better for you than most take-out food. Crabby favors the Lean Cuisine Spa kind with the whole grains and double vegetables, or Amy's enchiladas sometimes, though she wouldn't want to eat any of them more than about once every week or two. But time is precious--and Crabby has nothing against saving a little of it with a microwave. On some days, Crabby would much rather nuke herself some leftover chicken vegetable soup from the freezer and go for a long pleasant walk rather than spend an extra hour in the kitchen preparing some damn thing from scratch. But maybe that's just her.

So what do you folks think--will you be boycotting your microwave ovens come Friday?


  1. I don't own a microwave, Crabby. I never wanted one. My husband offered several times to buy me one back in our early days together, but I said no thanks.
    Nothing against 'em, they're convenient as all get out, but I refuse to buy into the "don't have time" notion.
    And I'd misuse it. At work, especially on deadline Mondays, someone, usually me, made nuker popcorn. Everyone soon found reason to visit the break room. I know I'd do the same thing at home.

    As for the obesity and the microwave pronouncement, you're right. It's silly.

  2. Not all that dissimilar to the SHS issue. The outcome variable is overweight vs. not overweight and the only predictor is the proliferation/# of microwaves. We have data collected since the 1930's which shows a steady increase in obesity following the expansion of fast food chains. Seems feasible and tempting but as you said this is NOT the only variable contributing to obesity and is a complex issue.

  3. I don't think it is about the microwave, but the store bought microwave dinners themselves. You can make very healthy meals in the microwave, steam vegetables, bake apples . . .

    I still maintain the obesity epidemic has more to do with "quick food", easy ways to make a full meal (like I posted earlier, the poverty thing, the cheap thing, the just wanting something that tastes good, is cheap and quick to make thing).

  4. I vote to boycott office jobs on Friday. I mean, look how bad they are for you! You sit for eight or more hours staring at a computer. There are vending machines and highly process food sold in the cafeterias. For god's sake, there are even birthdays and thoughtless co-workers who bring in cake and cookies to celebrate. Boycott the office says I!

  5. I'm with SmartCookie!

    And gas stations full of tempting little chocolate bars and hot pies on cold days should also be boycotted as being bad for one's health.

  6. The only thing I eat on a regular basis that's microwaved is... frozen vegetables for dinner.

    Looks like I'd better not boycott the microwave, then. ;)

    I'm with Smart Cookie and Dawn. I wanna boycott the office. :D

  7. It's not the microwave that's the problem, it's what you put in it.

    I'm totally on board for the Friday office boycott!

  8. Smart Readers Have Spoken: It's the Friday Office Boycott!!!

    It's the only sensible way to combat obesity, don't you think?

    So everyone, just tell your bosses/coworkers/families that Crabby McSlacker over at Cranky Fitness told you not to go to work on Friday because it's endangering your health.

    And please report back and tell Crabby how well that went!

    And leah, I'm not surprised at all you don't have a microwave--though I bet the goats would appreciate having the contents of their slop pails warmed up just a bit.

    Anonymous, thanks so much for supplying some sense of the actual data. This idea of a sudden spurt in 1984-1987 seemed suspect to me. And thanks for coming back, Crabby loves to hear from knowledgeable researchers, especially after she opines on topics she really knows nothing about.

    Andrienne, I totally agree with you. And hmm.. baked apples... never really thought of that in a microwave--they don't explode? Provided that a bit of brown sugar is involved, it sounds quite tasty.

    Smartcookie, I think you are totally onto something with this office boycott! You get full credit if the idea takes off.

    Dawn--and you can help us spread this idea throughout New Zealand too! Boycott, boycott!

    Yay, Chicken Girl and Bunny Girl are onboard too! You can't stage a proper boycott without Chickens and Bunnies.

    And btw, all of you have such healthy micowave habits! No junky popcorn addiction confessions? I fully expected that when I introduced the topic.

  9. Microwaves are convenient but can't do much except reheat, right? Seems they can also be dangerous. A friend sent me an article some time ago that said food microwaved in Styrofoam absorbs the carcinogenic gases released by the process -- something like that. Since Styrofoam is one of the worst inventions ever, it's good to have further reason not to use it. Oh, and cover the food you're microwaving with waxed paper or a napkin or paper towel, not plastic wrap. More gases.

    A couple of years ago I won a feng shui evaluation of my tiny domicile in a charity silent auction. The very nice, very sincere practitioner who visited was filled with strange notions about clearing paths for chi to flow freely, and said I should have a living plant somewhere on the "money wall" to increase my prosperity. I had a landscape painting on that wall, which she said was almost as good. But my point is that she shrank away from the microwave at the mere sight of it and made some sort of hex sign. She said the best thing I could do with the microwave was to bury it in the back yard.

    I'll add my vote to boycotting the office whenever possible. Too bad I live so close to mine -- I have no excuse to telecommute.

  10. If my weight problems were the result of microwaves, my problem wouldn't be obesity, but anorexia. About the only thing I use the microwave for on a regular basis is to heat up canned veggies.

  11. Oh gawd I hate things like this. Anyone who makes such a pronouncement should have to write "correlation does not imply causation" 100 times on a chalkboard.

    Besides, the PBS series Reading Rainbow started up in the mid-1980s, encouraging children to take up that most sedentary pursuit - reading. We should be burning books to combat obesity! It's either that, or Nintendo's fault.

  12. I'm with the rest of these folks...I use my microwave for veggies quite often...it's be a shame not to have it.

    It's going to take shocking new research for me to kick the 'wave.

    Have a good one!

    Sylvia C.

  13. I agree, a microwave oven boycott is absurd. Why not a refrigerator boycott? A freezer boycott? Think of all the fattening foods people keep in those places....

    People can be so silly!

  14. "But my point is that she shrank away from the microwave at the mere sight of it and made some sort of hex sign." lol!

    I also agree with Thomma Lyn, a refrigerator boycott would be much more effective in our home, as far as obesity is concerned. Actually more like a cookies and cake and yummy things boycott...mmmm, wait. What were we talking about?

  15. The reference to the "relax" song just cracked me right up!

  16. So the more boring the subject matter (vegetables, microwave ovens) the funnier you guys are! Watch out, or tomorrow is going to involve micronutrients or bone density or something way tedious.

    Just like Katieo, I love the story of the feng shui hex woman advising you to bury the microwave in the back yard. (And I'm afraid given all the electronic crap in my house, the chi has long since fled anyway. The microwave is probably the least of my problems). But that money wall that needs a plant on it... um, which one would that be?

    Hi half man!
    Another healthy microwave person! So just who is buying all that deep fried heat & serve crap that's taking up 90% of the freezer space in the grocery store? I guess not the sensible readers of Cranky Fitness.

    Peggy-I'm actually kind of glad that even Noted Scientists and Health Reporters fall for this so often. It makes it much easier to find stupid science news to blog about. And I'm with you--obviously, PBS is responsible for the obesity epidemic. (Didn't they even encourage a Cookie Monster?)

    Sylvia, Hi!
    I'll add you to the list of folks who aren't misbehaving with their kitchen appliances.

    (Oops, wow, that sounded a little more risque than I intended. Just meant--healthy veggies, good for you.)

    Thomma Lyn,
    A freezer boycott, yes, that makes exactly as much sense as a microwave boycott. Too bad, I'll just have to come over and eat everyone's melting ice cream when the machines get unplugged--a shame for it to go to waste.

    Katieo! Cake, yumm. Yeah, what were we talking about?

    But watch out for that Appleton. He seems so refined and cultured, but he can scarf down a pint of Haagen Dazs quicker than you can say "feng shui hex lady." (Or so he insinuates, anyway...)

    And hiya Holly!

    I have to confess I never liked that "Relax" song much. It came on during one of my least favorite aerobics classes back in the day. Some sort of tortuous crunches or quad exercises were involved, which made the whole "Relax" thing painfully ironic.

  17. Heavens no! I use my microwave all the time!!

  18. I must admit I don't have a microwave oven. My room is so small that it'd have to sit practically half a meter from my laptop and I, and I'm not crazy enough to attempt that. If this is what it takes to have a microwave oven, though, as soon as I move in July, it will sit in my bathroom. I'm sure it's less dangerous near the toilet than near the computer, and with a wall between it and me.

    Now, that boycott thingy does indeed seem silly. I've managed to become fat and even borderline obese without a microwave oven, thankyouverymuch. I'd rather blame the McDonald's nearby or the fridge or the yummy cakes my mother would bake. Or, better, my own inability to discern between healthy foods and crappy foods. Yes, that works.

    As a sidenote, we do have such an oven at work. We even have two. Our offices are located far enough from town that the only alternatives are either to bring our own foods or go buy a huge sandwich or meals made of pasta with heavy sauces, so... The microwave thingy is actually a saviour. I can bring my veggies, quinoa and meat at the office without having to eat them cold, which I don't really like. Evidently, we don't have time to *cook* at the office during our 45 minutes lunch break. What is more destructive? A sandwich every day, or reheating our own, home-made food?

    Yeah, right, I thought that much, too. :P

  19. I rarely use my microwave, and the last thing I nuked was a spaghetti squash.. soooooo.. I don't really think that my micro is to cause for my weight problems. It would be over eating whatever I cooked in it though. ~laughs~ Ah, good old moderation, I hate you.

  20. Hi Crabby,
    If I boycotted my microwave on any given day, I'd starve to death!! I am ready for the "let's boycott the stove day."

  21. Hi Sera,
    Glad you're on board too!

    Kery, hi!
    Yeah, sounds like the microwave is a real savior around the office. (But um, careful in your new place not to end up with the microwave in the bathtub, okay?)

    Hi Rebecca!
    Another healthy microwave squash person! (And I'm with you--moderation, though I argue for it all the time, totally sucks).

    Yay Terrie!
    And yeah, let's boycott the stove instead. Or the oven--that's where the cookies get baked. (Mmm, cookies...) Well, maybe not.

  22. The Microwave oven did make junk food more convenient at home. So I guess it has something to do with our weight issue, but suggesting a one day boycott is the same as those one day gas station boycotts. It won't work. People will find a different junk food to eat or a will just wait a day and then microwave all their frozen meals.

    How about a one day healthy eating day? That might have more impact since introducing people to healthy eating habits for just one day could have a more lasting effect.


  23. Hi gal,
    A healthy eating day would be great--except I suspect a lot of people already know that the crap they're eating is unhealthy, they just don't want to give it up. But worth a try!

  24. I dunno about those frozen foods made to be microwaved. Most of them have no taste, taste like cardboard, or are too salty. I much prefer take-out from any of the wonderful deli/bistro/quickstop food emporia on my daily routes.

    The feng shui money wall is in my bedroom. Make of that what you will...

  25. I plan to boycott everything Friday and stay in bed.

  26. appleton,
    think I'll let the money/bedroom thing go, tempting as it is...

    and Dawno, excellent advice!

    Friday is official Boycott Everything day here at Cranky Fitness!

  27. imagine having to heat up leftovers with the immense energy waster of the oven every time.
    the point of the microwave was to save us time in food prep in order to do other things with our lives. which i think most have done. d
    id some corporate honcho come up with this idea, paying some doctor to "reveal" the dangers of individual kitchens instead of the actual processed food we were being served?

  28. hi MM!
    Good point about the huge waste of energy that the alternatives can cause. And it was actually some psychologist who made the original pronouncement, which for some bizarre reason got a lot of media attention. Go figure. And thanks for visiting!


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