Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fresh out of the Microwave Oven

This post stems from a conversation I had with one of my Dutch classmates the other day. He was arguing that America, through its various entertainment, athletic, and consumer exports, is a cultural empire that is gradually spreading to all corners of the globe.
So, I thought about it, and, I have to admit, since I've been in Europe, it's been impossible not to notice the growing cultural impact of the American way, even here in Leiden. I saw kids in the streets wearing I heart NY t-shirts. Renting a movie the other day, I found myself deciding between The Watchmen and Valkyrie, both only available in English with Dutch subtitles. Buying school supplies at the local store, I heard Green Day, then Britney Spears playing on the shop speakers above me. Right across from the 16th century Calvinist Church just off the Rhine River are a McDonalds and a Subway.
Our global impact, needless to say, is impressive.
Thankfully, one part of our culture that has not completely taken over is the perpetual rush everyone seems required to be in. Because so much of our system is dependent on consumerism, individual growth, and production efficiency, the American way is hell-bent on making things easier, faster, more available, and more profitable. By extension, this means we, the cogs in the wheel, must make our lives simpler, more accessible and more productive.
If we examine specific cases, these developments are largely positive, healthy evolutions that contribute to more streamlined, efficient uses of our time. Think e-bay, direct deposit, call forwarding, Starbuck's Coffee. But, if we step back from between the trees, we might just see that the edges of the forest are starting to burn.
Ingrained in this philosophy is the idea that time is the enemy. How many times do you hear the phrase "there just aren't enough hours in the day." Hell, I don't know many people back home who think there are enough days in the year, or years in their life to get done what they "need to get done." Ironically, this belief tends to drive us to do things in a more rushed, less fulfilling way, thus exascerbating the problem. Enter stress, anxiety, and poor health.
The perfect symbol of this, in my opinion, is the microwave oven. This common kitchen appliance, widely heralded as the greatest invention since sliced bread, is in 90% of American homes, and represents the ultimate in convenience and efficiency. Nevermind that it's led to a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is the production of essentially fake food.
Nevermind that it poses a myriad of risks, both to us and the real food we put inside of it.
For most of us, it's fast and simple, therefore it's good. This belief holds obvious dangers we can plainly see in the health, or lack thereof, of our population.
On the whole, the microwave is just a symptom of the greater illness, but an enlightening one: Some things (nutrition is certainly one of them) should not merely been packaged, time-shrunk, and "nuked."
In this instance, I feel, I have already benefited from my still young European adventure. A few observations... In Sicily, everyone takes three hour lunch breaks. On weekends, Leiden shops don't open until noon. French students are expected to take time off from their degrees to travel. All Dutch citizens go on one month of holiday every year.
Admittedly, I laugh at some of this stuff, and I'm not saying adopting this lifestyle is the answer. In fact, I know it isn't. People here might be a bit too relaxed, even for my taste. However, it does serve as a catalyst for reflection. Stopping to take a breath every now and then isn't such a bad thing, and I think in most cases it's a relatively simple fix.
Using nutrition as a example, but also as a metaphor, I thought it would be interesting to hypothesize the tangible benefits of "unplugging the microwave."
1) Food quality would become more important, leading you to take greater care in choosing what you eat. As time becomes less of a consideration, you would be less likely to rush into a bad meal and more likely to choose ingredients that are of a higher caliber. Because of this change, 2) You'd know exactly what you were eating at all times. Gone would be the days of pre-packaged mystery meals that you think might be good for you, but you just don't have the time to find out if they actually are. Therefore, 3) You'd be getting more nutritional value out of every meal, and, thus 4) You'd have a greater appreciation for what you were eating. Knowing what's in your food and that it is of high quality will necessarily leave you feeling more satisfied after eating it. 5) Meals would become more communal. Slow down long enough to make this adjustment and there'll be more time to share this high quality food that you enjoy with family and friends.
Since I've been here, I haven't even seen a microwave. And, as far as I can tell, the only downside to all the cooking I've been forced to do, are the dirty dishes. Now if I could just get a dishwasher I'd be in business.
Food journal for today:
Meal 1: smoothie (1 banana, peanut butter, protein powder, whole milk)
Meal 2: scramble (1 potato, 1 tomato, 1 avocado, 1/2 onion, 1 bell pepper, 3 eggs, cheese)
Meal 3: Dutch hamburger, green tea
Meal 4: brown rice, chicken breast, tomato soup, broccoli
Meal 5: smoothie (1 banana, peanut butter, protein powder, whole milk)


  1. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately (minus the microwave oven analogy cuz I'm not that clever!). I left a good paying job a few years back mostly so I can have more hours in the day to just chill. Good pay, but regular overtime. Now I work in a firm where people value time with family and loved ones as much, if not more, than their work. Overtime is rare. The latest I've ever stayed here was 8pm whereas the latest I stayed at my old job was...well 2am, 4am and a few overnighters. The people I interacted with at my old firm were glued to work (at the office or via Blackberry) almost all hours of the day and I just didn't see this as a way to live. Reminds me of this word in Japanese that literally means to work yourself to death.

    I saw a movie a few weeks ago with a former co-worker and during the few hours we were together he had several work-related email exchanges and even had a mini conf. call in my car afterwards with another to come.

    I'm glad this particular aspect of American culture hasn't spread across the world like MickyDs or SBUX. But I feel lazy because I think like this when it seems like most people don't.

  2. Just occurred to me - if people truly enjoy their jobs then dedicating more hours to it is understandable. Unfortunately I'm just not in that position.

  3. I hope you picked Watchmen! I love that movie, and no, its not because Dr. Manhattan is naked the whole time.

    Question for you Blair. What is your view on eating refined grains and other non-paleo carbs? Obviously, it hasn't impeded your athletic progress. I personally cut grains, legumes and alcohol out of my diet about 4-5 months ago. I get all of my carbs from fruits and veggies. I am not on your level (yet) but I have noticed a significant increase in my athletic performance, energy level and recovery. Have you ever considered altering your diet? Like I said, its not like you need it, but, maybe, it will turn you into Dr. Manhattan. I am just curious, just promise me you will at least wear pants.

  4. Blair,
    Great post!
    I met you at CrossFit East Sacramento one day right before the games. Your blog is tight!
    Have fun,
    Justin A
    CrossFit Victrix

  5. My view on eating refined grains is that it's not ideal, but nearly impossible not to. I hate eating bread, so that I really try to avoid, but if I eliminated grain rices, quinoa, etc. I donät know how would get enough calories in durign the course of the day. Also, Iäve noticed that the market for food in a town like Leiden, though abundantly fresh, is not abundantly diverse. Therefore, the more things I can keep available the more variety I have and the less stale my meals will begin to feel. Perhaps this is just a level of discipline I need to develop.