Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"A dishpan and piece of scotchbrite"

Regular readers know that two of my favorite things are dishwashers and online-newspaper comments. So what better than a combination of the two! The NYT Real Estate section ran an article about how "Manhattanites" (cue the offended Queens residents) who used to rent and are now buying apartments, according to some real estate broker, consider having a dishwasher "'an inalienable right, not a privilege.'" The P word! Their privilege is showing.

The ostensible point of the article is that as the market has shifted more in buyers' favor, that which they used to put up with, they no longer have to: the dishwasher as barometer for changes in the real estate market. But the commenters, much to my delight, are not having it. It is most definitely about dishwashers:

"Dishwasher? I'm 60 yrs old and haven't ever lived in a house with anything but a dishpan and piece of scotchbrite."


Non-dishwasher-use seems to bring out a certain pride. Or rather, two quite different versions. One is pride in being too important to cook. Too emancipated for that, if female, or too waited-on/non-domestic if male, but regardless, too much of a big deal to have ended up in the kitchen with counter-and-sink-fulls of dirty implements for which you yourself are responsible. Non-dishwasher-use suggests a life of glamor - nightly dinners out, or a job that pays enough that takeout poses no problem. (If you're not using a dishwasher because you're living off Wendy's or Lean Cuisine, you're either a master of clever self-presentation, or not announcing your non-dishwasher-use in the first place.)

The other, meanwhile, is pride in being a back-to-the-earth, artisanal-local-organic post-yuppie, someone who eschews modern appliances in order to eschew modern appliances. Why buy dry pasta if you could hand-knead your own? Why put dirty dishes into a machine that cleans them for you, when you could clean the by hand? Didn't Michael Pollan say something about emulating our great-grandmothers? If you're not eating processed foods, it stands to reason that you're not allowing a mechanical device to process your dishes, either. After you scrape your leftover bits of kale and quinoa into BPA-free containers or perhaps a compost heap, you're really going to break out the Cascade?

As for dishwashers being fancy, a question for (both) my readers: isn't New York unusual in that you have to be quite wealthy/lucky to have a dishwasher? That was my impression, at least. That it wouldn't be normal in another town for a young lawyer, say, to live without one.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is so "usual" for other cities to have dishwashers. All of the Philadelphia apartments I lived in didn't have dishwashers.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm more "righteous," but I actually prefer washing dishes by hand. When you don't have a lot of dishes, it sucks to have to wait until you can fill a load before you wash it all, and if it's only me and say, one other person, the amount of dishes is not that high even with cooking the majority of my own meals. My parents had a dishwasher, but for some reason it never actually cleaned the dishes well. There was often some weird rings, or particulate matter left on the dishes, which really, really bothered me. I prefer to wash each dish to my standard of cleanliness.

However, if/when I have kids though, I will probably love the dishwasher. For a household sans kids I'm not sure it's such a necessity unless you're cooking gourmet meals all the time.

Britta said...

My last two apartments have had dishwashers, and the two before that didn't. (Also, no dishwashers when living abroad). I can make do without a dishwasher (when I was 16 we moved into a house with no dishwasher, and my mother put one in when I was 23), but I prefer it greatly. I live in a house with 3 people and we generate enough dirty dishes we can run it about every other day. I've also lived without a microwave, and it's fine, but I prefer a microwave, since 3 minutes in microwave > 45 mins heating up in the stove, and you don't dirty as many pots.

Phoebe said...

I totally get not using a dishwasher if you don't use enough dishes to make it worthwhile - whether you live alone, live with someone else, live on a commune of non-culinary sorts, whatever. And I also see how having a dishwasher kind of creates a dish problem - when I don't have one, I'll just rinse a knife/cutting board/etc., say, rather than taking a new one, unless raw meat is involved.

Anyway, I'd define "necessity" - since obviously humanity made it quite far without 'em - as, you fill one up and then some with a day's worth of dishes. I cook quite a bit, "gourmet" being subjective (is broccoli-tofu stir-fry gourmet? pasta arrabiata made up of a can of tomatoes, some garlic, and hot pepper flakes? some fish, roasted potatoes, and a salad?), and even for two, this is plenty to fill a dishwasher once a day.

A lot also depends on whether you're having breakfast/coffee at home, lunch... So yes, two people sharing a household might be an ambiguous case dishwasher-necessity-wise.

Phoebe said...


Were these student apts in Hyde Park? Because I don't remember those as having dishwashers, but nor do I remember very many non-student residents in those buildings. Or if there were some, maybe they had a dishwasher installed? I have a very limited sense of how anyone lives in Chicago other than students, I suppose.

I think everyone could make do without a dishwasher, and it's the rare individual who makes it to, say, 30 without having ever had the opportunity to prove it. What I'm picking up on is really the phenomenon of treating the devise like some kind of barometer for character - having one but not using it, or not trying to find a place that has one, is somehow proof of something greater than not having accumulated enough dishes to make the device worthwhile. Some seem to think using a dishwasher is "cheating," others that any cooking sufficiently complicated as to require a dishwasher must have been haute cuisine.

Britta said...

I don't know if student apartments do, (I think most of my friends who lived in student apartments don't have them), but I feel like lots of other off-campus apartments do.