Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Cheers for Microwave for One

There's an internet fascination this week with "Microwave for One", but I've been giving it some thought, and have wound up being really annoyed by how it is being portrayed.  First, the cover:
S. Allison with puffy curly hair leaning on an old school microwave
Stylistically, there's a lot of mocking potential.  I get where this is coming from. With the image quality and the hard to miss hair and plaid shirt, It's really hard to see if she has a lovely smile or not.  The microwave is seriously Old School.  The production values look a little on the slim side compared to these days where anyone can self publish and make something that looks 10 times the quality. 

The problem is, the derision goes deeper than the surface of a not-quite-hip 80's look and not so subtly reinforces the notion that adult women who don't have a man are sad, pathetic creatures to be pitied. Some non-trivial listmaking group even listed it as "the worst/saddest book of all time".  Which might have been ok had they actually acquired and read a copy, but they admit they did not.  All they had was the poor quality image and snarky Amazon reviews to go by.

But this book is from 1987, people, and that attitude was horseshit then and it's deeper, stinkier horseshit now.  I haven't read the book either, but if real publishers can make horseshit assumptions about an old book and, worse, mock the author, I can make the opposite assumptions with as much validity and give her some props.

I'm here to stand up and cheer for Sonia Allison.  "Microwave for One" was probably one of the (if not the) first cookbooks aimed at Independent Women With Jobs who were Comfortable With New Technology.  How cool is that?  (Very, in case you were tempted to answer wrongly.)  Back in 1987, women were finally getting into the business world in significant numbers.  Women were getting divorces to get out of awful marriages that they'd have stayed in even a decade earlier.  Women had the option of being less defined by their husband, husband's career, and their children and being defined by what they could do for the world at large, if that's how they wanted to work it. Not to diminish the choice of being a mom and housewife, it's just not everyone's bailiwick and for the first time, large numbers of women could realistically choose to either not be a mom, or put off being a mom and find herself first, and not be considered a total freak.   (Then again, maybe I spoke too soon, because here it is 2011, and people still think an independent woman is a lonely freak.  Hence this blog post.)

But even single women setting the world on fire gotta eat and almost every cookbook in the world is geared toward feeding 4-6 people per recipe or meal.  I know, I've tried to find books just like MFO, and they are not thick on the ground. For an independent young woman, probably living in a tiny city apartment, a 4 course meal for 4 is a waste of time and money.  Few people want the same thing for dinner Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, if  they had the wherewithal to even make a full meal after work on Monday.  If there isn't a cookbook out there, you have to make everything up on your own, and I can tell you from experience that it's a hassle and takes a lot of time and energy to figure out.

(sidebar: The microwave would be handy for reheating dinner 3 times, I suppose. Even today, most people reheat with their microwave rather than cook.  It's another example of a revolutionary advance that everyone can see should be awesome, but we only use it to about 10% of its potential.)

Ms. Allison saw the potential in microwaves and in a growing audience.  Who better than an independent woman with a small place and lots of demands on her time to use a time and space saving kitchen appliance to craft a nifty meal for herself.   If you're going to set the world on fire, you need proper nutrition, and Ms. Allison was there to help you out.

Maybe this touched a nerve because I've been thinking I could write a great cookbook on how to cook for one.  I cook for one because I live independently, not because I'm lonely; I'm betting Ms. Allison was the same.  She put her book out there because she had good ideas for healthy, timesaving meals that young women and men, or the recently divorced could use to chart a course that hadn't been charted before.  The derision behind the mocking is frightening with its persistence and intensity into this day and age. Can't we move past the notion that single women are lonely old spinsters who need to be pitied?  I kind of don't want to think about how much kinder people would have been if her image showed a more classic beauty, either. Pretty please, with sugar on top, let's grow the hell up!  Instead of mocking someone who is probably a lovely woman, if not a beautiful one, let's celebrate the accomplishment of a talented, motivated woman who embraced new technology, figured it out, translated the old patterns into new, and gave the world of independent working women something they/we could use.

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