In the absence of all the conveniences that make America so cozy, Shelter Editor K. Emily Bond ponders life without microwave ovens, HBO and good lighting.
My husband, kid and I live in an ancient walled city. We don’t have a basement because, I suspect, someone’s skeletal remains are down there. There are lots of antediluvian dead people underfoot; you can’t dig in Seville, Spain without bumping up against a pile of bones or Roman cutlery, which invariably leads to bureaucratic disaster. As a result, there are few swimming pools within city limits and even fewer basements.
Bones I can live with, permitting they pre-date Columbus. The lack of a basement (despite my storage issues) is something I’ve learned to live with, too.
Here are a few more typically American conveniences that I’ve loved and left, the dearth of which has improved my quality of life tremendously.
A Microwave Oven
Over 90% of American homes have a microwave oven. They’re the ultimate in convenience, and admittedly more energy efficient than conventional ovens. That’s the good part.
Now, I’ll refrain from stating the obvious “but!” that follows (hint: it concerns the nutrients lost to your beloved Black & Decker). Instead, I’d like to direct your attention to the story of Norma Levitt. She was transfused a bag of blood that the nurse made the mistake of zapping in a microwave oven.
Guess what happened?
If the convenience of microwave heating could so dramatically alter the molecular structure of blood, thus killing poor Norma Levitt, imagine what it’s doing to your leftovers.
Apparently too much television can kill you, this according to an Australian study. The more hours you spend watching TV, the greater your risk of dying at an earlier age. Seriously. Like, by the hour. The study found that each hour spent in front of the TV increases your risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent.
Is True Blood really worth it? Not if it was like last season.
Central Heating and Air
Air conditioning works by raking air across a thermostatically controlled refrigeration system and directing it back into our living environments. It’s really quite awesome on a hot day, but it also increases energy costs by about 50 percent and puts enormous strain on our environment.
Like it or not, a lot of our electricity is still produced by burning coal, thus contributing to dirty air, acid rain and global warming.
Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World, writes that, “if people in India, Brazil and Indonesia used as much air-conditioning per capita as we do (and why not, their climates are hotter than ours), they would consume not only their own electricity supplies but also all of the electricity in Mexico, the United Kingdom and Italy – plus all 60 nations of Africa! The air-conditioning of America’s homes, businesses, schools, and vehicles causes the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to 400 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.”
The joy I feel during a shop at Whole Foods is fettered only at the checkout line. No matter how good, ethical, healthy, organic and “local” Whole Foods makes me feel, when I take an objective step back and really look at the store – the layout, the lighting that makes the produce look like it’s being bathed in late afternoon sunshine – I can’t help but feel that I’m being marketed to and, in fact, kind of duped.
Is it really better to buy organically grown tomatoes flown in from Chile? Am I really helping small, local farmers in my native Maryland if most of the organic produce in this country comes from California? Particularly if “five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry,” as suggested by this article in Slate?
More pressing, do I really need a $10 bag of cherries?
Thankfully, opportunities to buy roadside produce abound in this fine nation of ours, as do hyper-local food co-ops. The lighting might not be as pretty (nor the parking as convenient) but at the very least you’re adding value to the quality of your life and the community.
Images: Walker Art Center; jmv; marlambie; Joe Shlabotnik