Friday, June 20, 2008

We Can Do Better

We need a new Stove.

Scratch that: Our old white Range is somewhere over 30 years old. It was the 1st appliance we purchased as kids in our late 20s when we moved into the 1st house we ever bought. That Range has been a tireless and loyal Work Horse, preparing more dishes and meals than I could even think to count. She didn't ask for much. Sure, she needed replacement parts on occasion. We took care of her and she took care of us. Through it all, she stood by us all those years.

Fast forward 3 decades: We took our Trusty old Range to our new home here on Butterfly Hill Farm. We had been advised from an individual in Grand Forks whose family had a long history of appliance repair to take Trusty. Plain and simple: They just don't make appliances like that any more.

But Trusty is a little tired these days. This old Range's oven element burnt out a couple of weeks ago. Plus, the largest burner seems to have a mind of its own, including high heat when you least expect it or want it.

We are a family that cooks. A lot. I am excited to tell you that the Slow Food Movement is alive and well on Butterfly Hill Farm. We cook from scratch. We integrate old family recipes with new found gems and those we create ourselves. We grow as much of our own food as possible which means canning over a hot cook stove in a hot season. We are courageous spirits. And it is worth every bite.

Consequently, the Range is a central part of our family's lives. Call it a Family Hearth. If we are going to acquire a new one: The Range must be a Work Horse. We are committed to acquiring quality. We want the Range to last a long time. We believe in taking care of our appliances, which includes repair. We do not believe in disposable appliances. Our landfills are full.

Enter the year 2008. The Rules have changed:

  • Trusty was from a generation which the standard was serving families reliably for 25 years. She is basic and she is no frills. Appliances now last 10. Or less.
  • Most Americans do not cook. They eat out. They nuke their highly processed food. They do not place the heavy demands on their Range that we 3 C's do. Consequently, Ranges today are light weight. Flimsy. In electric Ranges, smooth cooktops are the standard for up to high end; electric coils (which is what Trusty has) are now narrow, the cheapest and lowest quality. (Hers are thick and substantial.) Neither smooth tops or narrow coils would hold up to the demands of our family. The canner's hot water bath heavy weight plus our iron skillets would provide a challenge, breaking the smooth tops and coils, or scratching their delicate surfaces. At the very least, their life spans are decreased.
  • In the past, Ranges were made stateside, products of people and companies who were proud of their work. Now, Ranges are made off shore at the instruction of multi-national corporations and consumers who want the product for the least price. I cringe at the labor conditions for workers who are our global neighbors in such a massive system which lacks a caring ethic. They are people just like we are, just trying to make the best of their lives and the lives of their families. I know from reading that such corporations create systems which could only be called slave labor. That is not the energy I desire to stir into the world. That is not the kind of world to which our family aspires to live.
  • Repairmen are almost a thing of the past. Today, people just throw things away. Some of our reading showed that other canners had broken smooth tops and found buying another range was cheaper than repair. That's not what we want.
  • Manufacturers have figured out that to keep in business, appliances need to last less long so consumers just keep coming. To accomodate this, obselescence is built in through fashion or falling apart.
  • We did buy a gas stove which was delivered yesterday. The range appears to be a Work Horse. There are some problems: we find the off gassing of the chemicals from the Propane additive reduces indoor air quality. That is a no-no. We are having a repairman visit this next week for possible adjustments. I am not so sure Gas is the answer but it does appear to be the sturdiest choice. For now.
  • We are checking out the possibility of replacing the elements on Trusty at a local business which deals in used appliances and their repair. Plus we are looking into the purchase of an older range with new elements from the same generation of which Trusty is a part. Apparently, there is a 96 year old company which has made it their business to make new parts for used appliances. Should we make this choice: color will not matter. Avocado, copper or gold just might be in style here. You could call it the original "retro", which we have noted in catalogs demands a very high price for fashions of this day.
I know we will find our way. One door closes and another opens. Stay tuned. As a family and as a society, we can do better.

Dear Reader: How are you finding your way through this maze?

Notes: The above information comes from standing at the stove a lot of years, teaching consumer and household equipment classes at the collegiate level from the late 70s-mid 90s, teaching peace studies/environmental studies classes from the mid-90s-2005, (lately) talking with folks who sell new and used appliances and folks who fix them, plus internet searching.

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