A couple of years back, General Electric celebrated its cozy relationship with the federal government by putting a button on some of its microwaves by which the government would help you cook your food, as long as it was the right kind of food. Here's how Appliance Magazine described it back in 2011:
Over-the-range microwave ovens from GE Appliances are now being equipped with a MyPlate button, allowing users to easily cook foods found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recommended dietary guidelines.
MyPlate, the federal government's new food icon, was introduced in June 2011 by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. It is designed to help consumers make healthier food choices by. It is intended to help prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and to seek more information to help them do so. Healthy eating information is provided at the new web site, www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.
As I don't pay huge amounts of attention to the home kitchen appliance market, I had no idea any of this had happened. Neither did my family, who drove out to the coast last week here in Southern California for vacation. So we all ended up a little mystified when we encountered the button on the microwave in the resort suite where they spent the week. Here it is below:
There's no way of knowing what the purpose of the button is just by looking at it (though there are some instructions posted inside the door of the microwave). So I pressed it and ended up cycling through menu after menu of food options just for the purpose of having the microwave set the timer for me. It was time-consuming, redundant and a little bit strange. There was a setting for popcorn that took several button presses to get to, even though the microwave already had a button for popcorn. Since it was menu-based, it couldn't possibly account for the huge variety of healthy food options available, so there were huge gaps. The number of vegetable choices would take less than two hands to count out. There were three whole fish entries (whitefish, salmon and tilapia). Poultry consisted of chicken, with or without bones. The grains were things like rice, oatmeal, and quinoa that have additional prep steps before microwaving or probably already had microwave instructions on whatever packaging they came in.
Once I got to the chicken, I knew we had to try it out. My first thought about the button was that it was silly and useless, but harmless. But having the government cook chicken for you introduced a potential contamination hazard if it was underdone. I purchased some chicken breasts from a nearby grocery store, tossed them on a plate and let the government cook it for me. My prediction: Due to potential fears of liability, it would actually be overcooked rather than undercooked (imagine being able to sue both General Electric and the federal government!). But I was wrong. It actually turned out just fine. It was a little bit dry around the edges, but fully cooked and moist inside. It tasted fine, though uninspired (I didn't season it). Here's a picture:
The fact that it worked doesn't make the button any less silly and irrelevant. It's also hilarious that the URL listed on the button isn't the right address. MyPlate.gov isn't an actual site. If you try to go there you'll get an error message. It's www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. If the microwave button's true purpose was to promote the USDA's food nannying, they couldn't even get that right.
If you want to see the button in action, here's a General Electric promotional video on YouTube that hardly anybody seems to have watched. Resources well spent!