When I married for the first time in 1999, my then-mother-in-law gave us a microwave as a present. We stuck it on the top shelf of our broom closet until she came to visit, at which point my then-husband, in a mom-is-coming-to-visit panic, insisted on pulling it out and placing it in a visible location on the kitchen counter. He did not, however, think to look inside it, so my then-mother-in-law opened the door to discover the glass plate still wrapped in its original packing material. She was dismayed and worried aloud about why we had not used this most basic of kitchen appliances.
Why not? We just didn't want to. Did we really believe there was any danger in it? I don't know. My ex-husband may have. But I imagine the no-microwave rule really came from me. It's not a food-safety thing, it's an aesthetic thing. Food just doesn't taste as good coming out of a microwave. There is no browning to create sweetness or complexity of flavor. If reheating, the food reheats unevenly and does not stay hot as long, for some reason (actual physicists, when asked, suggest the latter phenomenon depends on the former). The process feels sterile and cut off from our rich food culture, in which warming a pot on the stove or a pan in the oven carry significant emotional and familial resonance.
No big deal. Megan and I just don't have one. But there is a problem: a whole generation of people are growing up without the requisite skills to heat things up (e.g., leftovers). Even some older people have forgotten how to warm up their food without a microwave. Frozen food companies contribute to the problem by not including anything other than microwave directions on many of their prepared dinners, or selling basic frozen vegetables in special packages designed to be microwave-only. I try not to buy a lot of frozen dinners, but I cannot tell you how annoying it is to purchase something, only to discover there are no oven directions. And frozen vegetables? It takes five minutes to warm them up in a pan with a little water. Why would you need to pay more to microwave them in the bag, (unless you are living in a hotel or a dorm room)?
But the real issue is the leftovers. No microwave? What to do? Eat them cold? Throw them away? This truly seems to be the state of cluelessness to which we have arrived. I have seen numerous people whom I respect suffer a complete brain meltdown when it comes to this issue: my daughter, my husband, my mother. People who know better. But how do I heat this up? Let me remind you, smart modern humans, that we still have all the basic cooking methods available to us (baking, frying, boiling), and all of these can easily be adapted to reheat our leftovers. It's not hard and often it doesn't take any longer than a microwave (certainly not in my insane overactive toaster oven).
1) baking. Place leftovers on/in a baking pan and place in the oven at a medium-high heat (400 degrees is usually good, except not in my insane overactive toaster oven, where 400 degrees will burn your food to a crisp in approximately 18 seconds). If there is only a small amount of food and you can arrange it into a small rectangle, a toaster oven is quicker and takes less energy.
2) frying. If your food contains adequate moisture, simply place in a pan on the stove and allow to heat, stirring occasionally, until hot. (Technically this is not frying unless you use some fat, but oil is often unnecessary for reheating unless you expect the food to stick.)
3) boiling. If your food does not contain adequate moisture, add a little bit. For instance, to reheat cold dried-out rice, add a small amount of water to the pan (maybe only a tablespoon or two) before heating. Get that water steaming on high heat, then turn down to low until the food is hot.
The only one of these things that takes substantially longer than microwaving is reheating a large quantity of food in the oven (e.g., reheating a whole casserole dish or pie). But the only real reason to do this is if you are rewarming leftovers for a family meal, in which case it is not an unreasonable amount of effort to stick something in the oven and walk away for 15 or 20 minutes. (Also, the words "reheating a whole casserole dish or pie" are crazy evocative of my grandmother's house, and by extension a whole Middle American culinary culture that is dying a sad but not undeserved death, and who really reheats casseroles anymore, unless they are spending time with elderly people in Iowa?)
So, Megan, I am relieved that a mere 30-year-old like yourself has the confidence and the skill set (not to mention your fine aesthetic sense) to go microwave-free, and I hope my daughter will grow up to be like you someday. Thanks again for Thanksgiving dinner, and for marrying someone who brings so much to the table (literally). No nukes! --your aunt