Friday, February 24, 2006

Slaves to Appliances' Appearances

A fascinating article from Christine Rosen on the recent trend of buying super-fancy kitchen appliances--and not using them:

Wealthy Americans in particular buy Viking stoves hoping that the right machine will make them want to cook, failing to recognize (or admit) that it is not the technology they lack but the will. By spending so much money on machines, they seek to buy domestic happiness on the cheap. And the makers of these machines ingeniously appeal to this longing, evoking both nostalgia for a lost era of domesticity and the dream of automating all our domestic labors.

Of course, neither cultural nostalgia nor technological progress can restore the domestic tranquility we feel we have lost. What is necessary is a sober defense of the worth of domestic life, including those labors—chopping vegetables, sweeping a floor, setting a table—that are hardly glorious in themselves but essential parts of the domestic satisfactions we still seem to want. “As people turn more and more to outside institutions to have their needs met (for food, comfort, clean laundry, relaxation, entertainment, society, rest),” writes Mendelson, “domestic skills and expectations further diminish, in turn decreasing the chance that people’s homes can satisfy their needs. The result is far too many people who long for home even though they seem to have one.”
My darling wife and I have made it a serious goal to always eat meals as a family at the table with the television off. Even with the two bambinos, we have been moderately successful in our efforts. I'm bringing this up not to brag or anything, but because I would love to hear tips from people (especially when it comes to cleaning). What has worked for you?

Here's what we do when we are most successful (with meals):

1. The layout of our house helps. The tv is downstairs and cannot be seen from the kitchen. I have no willpower when it comes to tv, so it makes a huge difference when the evil temptation is gone. If you can arrange it, make it so.

2. I am finding that Tivo is great for family time. If I want to watch a show that comes on before the kids go to bed, I just record and watch later. I don't think this aspect of digital video recorders can be emphasized enough. Plus you can record Kill Bill for your two-year olds.

3. Planning:

a. Make a list of meals for the week. Use your fancy cookbooks and gourmet magazines and come up with what you are going to eat every day. When we don't make a list, it is amazing how much time we waste trying to figure out what we have and what we want to eat on any given night.

b. Make a shopping list based on the meal list. Get everything you need at the grocery store for the week in one trip. Very useful, and it saves money.

c. Have the meat thawed and other stuff ready to go when you prepare the meal. I work full-time now, but I can cook a lot of meals when I get home because everything is ready to go. If you don't eat meat, or are just a general ninny like Stephen, I guess you have to do something to prepare your tofu or bean curd or tree bark or chunks of concrete in advance. I wouldn't know.
4. Shake your children.

5. Clean dishes as you cook. It saves a ton of time at the end of the meal. Plus it stops idiots like me from fiddling around with food that needs to be cooking.

Which reminds me, Rosen neglected to mention the greatest practical invention of the last fifteen years: the sponges attached to tubes that hold the dish soap. I am totally serious. I've washed a lot of dishes in my day--even professionally for such fine establishments as Perkins, Kentucky Fired Chicken, and Quiznos--and those sponge thingamajigs make life infinitely easier. They save more time than microwaves. I'm very passionate about this. So if you want to send me evidence that these sponges are the true source of the ebola virus, don't bother. I won't care. (I think we get the ScotchBrite kind from Walmart. If you get that one, only fill it about a third of the way up or it will leak.)

6. I'm told that when children get older they can be made to help with the dishwashing and table setting things, so you might want to take it easy on point 4.
So how about it? Anyone have any advice?

And, yes, I am comfortable in my manhood.


greg said...

No advice here just a long-held observation of mine that I believe more than any other single factor, my mother's preparation of my breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday until I was a senior in high school and the fact that we ate together as a family without the TV is the most important in keeping me out of prison. It kept me grounded.

One piece of advice: keep calling Steve names, although I agree with him point for point. It must be the California air.

padawan john said...

My Mom, and my sisters do it still, used to do this thing called once a month cooking. Every four weeks or so, she would spend a saturday cooking all day. She would make a couple of pans of lasagna, enchiladas, and some other casseroles, probably about 10-15 during the day, plus make a couple of different kinds of soup. At the end of the day she would freeze it all, then pull it out the day we were going to have it, let it thaw, and just throw it in the oven. So, each day there was basically no prep time. Of course it is a little bit of an investment buying a couple of extra casserole dishes when you first start, but it more than pays for itself in the time saved throughout the busy weeks.

Atlas said...


Anonymous said...

I work for a large cookware manufacturer and speak with people all the time who buy stuff they don't know how to use, and blame the product when they can't figure it out. I would compare it to buying a standard transmission and expecting the car to shift like an automatic.
As for eating with the family; during the time I lived at home with my parents, we almost always ate together with no tv; 350+ days/yr. I am the third of four, so i don't know how my parents did it with two, but I can ask them and pass on some wisdom if you want it.

-Marine II

Maple Sugar said...

My mother used to involve all of us in the preparation of some key meals or meal elements when we were smaller. The much-anticipated taco night (where we prepared all the fixings) or pizza night ('crusts' made of pitas, and again, all the fixings) were much more fun than our job cutting the salad veggies, but all had the same purposes of (a) encouraging us to be in the kitchen at the same time, (b) giving us an element of choice and therefore ownership in the food preparation, (c) teaching us some basic skills and (d) reminding us that mothers aren't the only ones who can function in a kitchen. (We also prepared our own lunches for school for many of the same reasons.) -- By the way, I notice that most people posting here refer to the women as being the food-preparers, which is not a realistic expectation in many households anymore, nor is it a fair message to be modelling to the next generation.

We were setting the table from a pretty young age, and clearing it not long after as well. Mostly we fought about who had to do what, so our parents designed a schedule that persists in our habits until today: the person who sets then clears everything from the table to the kitchen, and the other person scrapes the dishes and puts them in the dishwasher, and washes by hand those pots and pans that can't go in the washer.

Note: Walmart is evil, and if you are trying to promote family values you'll avoid it. Any company whose owners are in the top 8 most wealthy people in the world but whose employees need to rely on social insurance to make ends meet despite being 'full time' (28 hours/week) makes me ill.

Other note: the sponge-on-a-stick concept is great, but I've found it uses far more soap than necessary, very wasteful. Better just to fill or half-fill a sink with soapy water and use a plain sponge.

Tom said...

1. It is none of your business whether or not women do most or all of the cooking in the homes of the individuals who chose to comment here. You do not know their situations. As far as us corrupting future generations, no one here argued that women have to do the cooking. In fact, the only person who insisted anything here was the one who said the responsibilities in the kitchen had to be shared.

2. I love Walmart. Love it. And it sure is funny how people line up for jobs there despite its terrible working conditions. Oh wait, maybe that's because they need to suppliment their income because some people, not naming any names here, have insisted that in the interest of fairness every family must be a dual income home, so the cost of living has gone up, so just about every family must have two incomes.

3. What's wasteful is spending excessive amounts of time cleaning dishes in dirty tubs of soapy water so you can save a tablespoon of soap a week.

Anonymous said...

Not to add fuel to the fire, but once all of us kids were in school my mom went back to work and the four of kids shared cooking duties with both parents.
Concerning WalMart, if it wasn't for stores like WalMart and Sams Club, prices of a lot of goods could, and most likely would, sky rocket. These types of stores make the market more competative and help keep prices in check.

Marine II

Paul said...

Paul said...

Always High Taxes:
Brendan Miniter
WSJ- Opinion Journal

Maple Sugar said...

some people, not naming any names here, have insisted that in the interest of fairness every family must be a dual income home

Good grief. Not sure where I said that (if you're indeed implying I said that). I said it wasn't realistic to expect that women would be the only ones preparing dinner for their families today. This does not necessarily imply a dual-income family. Lots of fathers now stay home while the mothers work. Some families have chosen dual part-time incomes, so as to share the home-making as much as the breadwinning. This is as much a reality of our times as any full-time dual-income home.

the only person who insisted anything here was the one who said the responsibilities in the kitchen had to be shared

As for insisting, no: I observed that the posters here referred to women as the preparers of food, and that that was no longer realistic, and that future generations can expect that kind of shift, so we can expect to model it, to fairly and realistically reflect that kind of shift. Anyone is welcome to do what they like in their family, but things have changed since the days when we expected our mothers always to cook for us.

And were you not the one to bring up the expectation that children learn to help in the kitchen, and did you not ask people for input on ways to make food preparation more congenial? I was giving examples of how that worked in our family. Use it or ignore it as you will. I never insisted it had to work that way in your family, though, in all honesty and without any malice, sarcasm, or belittlement (one hopes that something I say might be taken at simple face value), I can't see why you wouldn't want to involve your children in a communal, family-friendly activity like helping to prepare dinner and one that teaches responsibility and helping others out, like cleaning up afterwards.

(And, in the interest of trying to demonstrate that those comments are in fact in good faith, I'll just let the whole Wal-Mart and dishwashing implement issues lie.)

Tom said...

The problem was not your suggestions. Of course it is a good idea to give kids responsibilities in the kitchen and around the house. The problem is the pontificating tone. We are not a bunch of high school students who need a lecture in how to properly think and behave.

Try, just for once, to give us the benefit of the doubt as adults who have thought through our opinions. We get it. Yes, the reality is that many women work outside the home. But many do not, at least when their children are young. No one made a value judgment on whether or not women should work outside the home or do the majority of the work inside the home, except you: "nor it it a fair message to be modelling to the next generation" and "things have changed since the days when we expected our mothers always to cook for us."

We get it. Some people think Walmart is evil. We hear those people all the time. In fact, they never seem to shut up about it. They even plant gardens on Walmart construction sites. Yet many of us still choose to shop at Walmart. An acquaintance of mine once said that he hoped to run over a local radical in his rush to the front door the day the Walmart in Athens opened. Let's just assume it's because we as thinking adults disagree with the people who claim it is evil.

Just so you know: "in all honesty and without any malice, sarcasm, or belittlement (one hopes that something I say might be taken at simple face value)" is being sarcastic. I also sense a little malice there.

So, please, save the lectures and false innocence for people who don't know any better.

Stephen said...

My wife cooks. I clean. We have no kids (yet). Works for us so far.

dcat said...

Can we be clear: Nazis were evil. Stalin's Soviet Union was evil. Apartheid South Africa was evil. The New York Yankees are evil.

Wal Mart is not evil. I am not the biggest fan of Sam Walton's company, and I would not argue that it has necessarily been a force for good, either, but it certainly is not inherently evil, and often times may even bring a net good to some communities. let's also be aware that the idea that Wal Mart drives out Mom and Pop is simply a myth -- usually Wal Mart drives out Ames and K-Mart. I have little sympathy for the out-of-state owners of one big box store being run into the ground because it is incapable of competing with another big box out-of-state store owner.

Wal Mart also happens to tend to be the cheapest game in town. It has been my experience that only people who do not know what the hell it is like to experience poverty understate how important access to cheap necessities can be. It's a midle class affectation to take pride in spending more to stick it to the man. Many, many Americans cannot afford such sanctimony.

And in any case, it is also easy to judge anonymously -- we don't know your articular foibles; You hate Wal Mart and judge those who don't. But do you wear anything made by Nike or Reebok or just about any other clothing manufacturer of whom we have ever heard? If so, you may well be contributing to child labor. Do you own any diamonds? Are you quite sure that they are clean? Do you wear anything leather or fur or use anything (including medicines) that have been tested on animals? Are you a vegan? Do you drive the most fuel efficient automobile on the market? What, you mean you use an automobile? Because on the sliding scale, someone can always point out the failings in others. It seems to me that taking a Wal Mart is evil stance (actually, genocide is evil; Wal Mart is flawed) really opens one's life up for a whole lot of scrutiny.

And I agree -- lectures ought to come from those at least as qualified as those being lectured to.