Just finished the chest freezer’s first defrosting job. The thing doesn’t collect very much frost, but after enough months pass, it does need to be chipped free. This summer’s humidity caused enough frost to grow that it was threatening to interfere with closing the lid, so, reluctantly, I finally moved myself to action.
To my surprised delight, it didn’t take anything like as much effort or time as expected. Only about a half-hour with a hair dryer defrosting the glaciers, plus another half-hour of winnowing out the hopelessly aged items and organizing the survivors.
The reason I dreaded this chore and put it off as long as I could is that I can remember what it was like to defrost a Frigidaire. O God!
Defrosting the icebox’s freezer was a half-day job. In the first place, the freezer compartment started to build layers of frost from the instant you plugged in the refrigerator. Frost built up on everything: every surface of the machine and every surface of anything you put into the freezer.
First, you’d wait until your family had gone through most of the food in the freezer and the refrigerator. Turning off the freezer in older models entailed turning off both compartments. Later, you could shut off just the freezer, but even then, since the job would take a long time, you didn’t want to leave much frozen food sitting in the refrigerator or sink.
In those days, women didn’t have hand-held hair dryers. A hair dryer was a lash-up with a plastic bonnet on the end of a hose connected to a contraption that looked a little like…I don’t know…a drag-around vacuum cleaner. It never occurred to anyone to try to use one of those things to speed defrosting, if that were even possible.
On the day you decided to defrost and clean the freezer, you’d turn on the soaps to keep you company. The soap operas would start around 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning. So if you started with the first soap, which I recall was Days of Our Lives, you would clean through As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, The Edge of Night, and finish about the time The Dumb and the Feckless came on. If you worked steadily, you’d finish around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.
It was a messy, foot-aching, back-aching, endless job that entailed boiling water, pouring it into flat pans, setting them into the freezer compartment to melt the two- and three-inch thick ice, wiping up the mess, and repeating. Over and over and over. Then you had to clean up the mess you’d made on the floor and kitchen counters. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t looking forward to doing that with a chest freezer that would add bending over to the list.
Moderns suffer way too much nostalgia for the good old days. One thing that concerns me about both this bottomless recession and the sometimes silly sentimentality inherent to the environmental movement is that both of these forces are tending to push back our standard of living.
To my mind, not having to stand in front of a freezer for two or three hours pouring, chipping, scrubbing, sponging, and mopping comes under the heading of “standard of living.” So does having a freezer at all. So does running an air conditioner and electric lights and an indoor stove. So does walking into a supermarket and having a choice of all the fruits and vegetables that grow in any season of the year, somewhere on this earth or in some agribusiness’s greenhouses.
One of the problems with the locavore movement is that, taken to its logical end, it means that you eat whatever is in season in your local area. Whatever does not grow in your immediate vicinity and is not in season, you don’t eat.
While that sounds very romantic and green, its reality is far plainer and far simpler than most locavores would relish: malnutrition.
Enthusiasts tell us that “most Americans should not expect to have tomatoes in January” and that “to eat truly locally means learning to live without those foods that won’t naturally grow in your own backyard, or in your local farmer’s fields.” Be careful what you wish for.
My mother grew up in upstate New York during the 1910s and 20s. She lived with her grandparents on a small subsistence farm. During the summer and fall, they ate what they could grow or gather in the forest. During the winter, they ate what they could store.
My mother grew up with rickets. Thanks to poor childhood nutrition, all of her teeth had been removed from her head by the time she was 45.
She told me that an orange was a rare treat. Citrus was expensive, too expensive for people who lived off their own land, and even if you could afford them, oranges were rarely available. During the winter, she said, oftentimes all they had to eat was beans and potatoes her grandmother had put up, served in bowls of hot milk taken from their cow.
That’s locavore eating. Do we really want to take ourselves back to 1918?
Consider, too, the bright ideas intended to save water and energy. Front-loading washers, for example: there’s a throwback to the “good” old days, if ever there was one. They work very much like the old Bendix my mother and I used in the early 1950s. Put a tablespoon too much detergent in the thing, and it would bubble up and flood the service porch. This is why washer hookups in 1950s houses are often outside, on the back porch or in the garage. It’s a lot easier to clean up the concrete garage floor or the back porch slab than to have to scrub an interior floor every third time you do the laundry.
I remember that damn thing overflowing, and I remember my mother racing to wipe up the mess with a mop and on hands and knees with rags. As if she didn’t have enough physical labor to do!
And I remember both of us bending over with aching backs to haul the heavy wet laundry out the front side the thing—even a little girl can get a back-ache, believe it or not. The Bendix induced back pain in users of all ages and sizes.
Why on earth do we think reverting to the 1950s is a good thing?
Then we have the repercussions of the present economic depression. How many of us are putting off buying appliances and other tools that make our lives more tolerable? I, for one, can’t afford to replace my dangerously overheating clothes dryer. It will run on “air fluff,” but that cycle doesn’t dry clothes. Most of my laundry can be hung out. But what happens when I need to wash the down comforter? That has to go through a dryer, and it can’t go into an ultrahot commercial dryer.
If I didn’t have a dryer, I wouldn’t own a feather comforter. I’d be doing the same thing my mother did: hauling heavy woolen blankets and bedspreads to the dry cleaner once a year. When we unwrapped them and put them on the beds, we’d sleep in toxic fumes for two weeks, until the stink dissipated.
How “green” was this? Well, take a look at a map of the Superfund sites in your area, and note how many pieces of land contaminated with dangerous chemicals once housed neighborhood dry cleaners.
While I can stand to hang out my clothes on a line, the truth is that having no working dryer puts one foot back in the 1950s, when most people didn’t own dryers. Or dishwashers. Or electric stoves and ovens. Or televisions. And no one ever heard of a microwave.
We no longer have the Russians to bomb us back into the Dark Ages. The Chinese are too busy turning themselves into the world’s economic superpower to bomb us into the Dark Ages, and the Iraqis are in no position to return the favor just now. But we seem not to need any help: we appear to be taking ourselves there on our own.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d like to see the developed world and everyone else consume less fossil fuel; spew less gunk into the atmosphere; quit polluting air, land, and water with toxic chemicals; quit bulldozing farmlands and blading the desert to make way for square mile on square mile of sprawl; stop torturing animals in grotesque factory “farms”; live well but not so large; and all such good things. I just don’t think we should do it at the expense of our health. Or at the expense of the positive factors that make us a “developed” country.