Don’t Fear the ‘Wave

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doodle by me

I heard that St. John’s Wart was a “natural” mood booster, and considered trying this plant extract. Upon examining the bottle I found at Wegmans, I saw a warning that it may interfere with birth control. That’s some serious interplay and consequences for something that’s supposedly completely safe. Many people assume that natural is equivalent to safe and synthetic is equivalent to dangerous. This is a false equivocation.

The world is full of chemicals, and even the most granola of us consume potentially dangerous chemicals, regularly. “Natural” is a tag that companies use to boost sales which has no meaning, legally. You can read my article about companies’ misleading use of words like “natural,” here. I’ve heard a lot of people my age say they refuse to use microwaves because it changes the composition of the food. But, all cooking, be it a camp fire or grill, changes the composition of food. There is a big difference between being a conscientious consumer, and a technophobe or chemophobe.

So, how do microwaves work, anyway? Well, it simply causes friction between the water molecules and the food molecules.

illustration by me

This isn’t different from traditional forms of cooking. According to an article published by the American Physical Society titled “The Mechanism, Safety, and Prospect of Microwave Ovens” by Angela Li, there is negligible wave leakage and any damage to the food is in its texture, which is sometimes damaged by uneven cooking.

But doesn’t microwaving food change its chemical composition? Yes and No. ALL cooking is a chemical reaction. Any time heat is applied to a substance, a chemical reaction is taking place. Burning incense is a chemical reaction, changing the composition from a stick of incense to energy in the form of heat with byproducts of ash and smoke.

I’ve seen comments saying “microwaves use radiation. Radiation causes cancer.” That is not true because the kind of radiation used by microwaves is non ionizing, according to Cancer Research UK. This type can affect cells, like make the water vibrate, but cannot affect the DNA like ionizing radiation would. Burnt food is carcinogenic. So, broiling or grilling a salmon until it’s nice and crispy is more dangerous than re-heating it in the microwave.

This was just a very simple post, but I felt compelled to make it because I’ve seen many young people throw out their microwaves under false pretenses. Usually, I don’t care what people do unless they’re hurting someone else, but in this case, the microwaves are very difficult to deal with as junk parts.

Don’t fear the wave. There will always be “scientific articles” positing many ludicrous  things, but consumers need to remember that many of those studies may be funded by companies pedalling “safe alternatives,” are not peer-reviewed, or have results that are not reproducible.

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