My late father was an Air Force pilot and after he left the service worked as an engineer. He loved gadgets and technology and when the first consumer microwave ovens were offered - I'm pretty sure it was Montgomery Ward that sold it - he was first in line to get one. I was still a child so it must have been in the late 1960's or early 1970's.
The thing was, simply, a massive hulk. There were no special settings, just a dial that you turned that timed whatever you were cooking. It was probably underpowered. He was fascinated with it. My mother, who was expected to cook with this pricey new gadget, despised it. I'm not sure I ever saw her use it.
That microwave oven lasted for decades. When my father finally upgraded after many years to a new model he gave it to one of my sisters who used it for years. I don't know where it is now but if it isn't in a landfill somewhere it probably still works.
Fast forward to this week.
I just bought my third microwave oven in seven years. The first had a problem with the timing: you'd hit 30 seconds and it might actually produce 30 seconds worth of power, or perhaps 10 seconds, or maybe a minute. The defrost cycle wouldn't power on. The other cycles, like reheat, would occasionally work. Verdict: JUNK.
The second one didn't even die a slow death like the first; one day it simply stopped working, period. Verdict: JUNK.
I hardly even use the damn things except to defrost meat, reheat leftovers or occasionally heat a cup of water for tea.
So, I went to Target this week to again shell out money for cheap crap that will have the lifespan of a guppy. It never occurred to me not to replace it, which in retrospect is really the problem, isn't it?
If one of the boxes - even one - had a MADE IN USA label on it I would have bought it. I would have paid more for it, wouldn't have cared about the features, just would have thrown it in my cart. This wouldn't have guaranteed quality, as these companies don't mind producing pure crap, but at least I would have known that the money would have gone back into our economy and supported jobs.
When I had to replace my last coffeemaker (the previous one stopped heating the water after about a year and a half) it would have been the same. American made? Sure. That's the one I'm getting, even though there isn't a company left that cares about the quality of their products and it would still break in record time.
Except we don't get that choice, hardly ever (my American-made dishwasher is the exception. It actually works and cleans dishes! Amazing!). But after hefting the new microwave into place it occurred to me that I do have a choice - just stop replacing crap with crap. Anything I do with a microwave I can do with my range. When my current coffeemaker stops working (I give it a year, and it's fairly new) I'll switch to a french press. Toaster breaks? Make toast with the broiler.
They'll keep selling crap as long as we're willing to accept crap.
It just seems short-sighted that not a single American corporation that manufactures small appliances will offer an American-made product, which would immediately have a market. Maybe they fear a switch in consumer behavior will hurt their overseas factories and investments and their ability to harm workers with toxic chemicals, factory fires or, in the case of Apple, suicides. We used to care about labor and environmental standards - remember the outrage over sweatshop workers manufacturing clothing in the 1990's, pre-Bill Clinton globalization lovefest? - but now we don't really care, as long as it's cheap and as long as we can make the crap last for more than a year.
This is no knock against Chinese factory workers, who have to deal with horrific environmental and labor standards. It's about cheap and shoddy components and companies selling stuff that they know won't last longer than a season of Downton Abbey.
So, this is my last microwave oven. I'll probably miss it briefly when it breaks and then cook like my mother did. Or maybe I'll get lucky and find the old Montgomery Ward microwave in my sister's garage.