Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Change Your Life Forever!

Buying things isn't going to change your life at all...

I mentioned infomercials in the last posting and I have addressed this before. The premise of an infomercial - any infomercial - is that your life will be divided into two parts.  The first is the dark days before you bought the product in question. Your life was miserable, your dog was ugly, and your wife was going to leave you.  Then there is the second part - the light and goodness, when you purchased the item in question, and all was right with the world - you got a raise at work, your neighbors threw a party for you, and your wife even agreed to perform oral sex.

Whether it is a rotisserie oven, some new kind of vacuum cleaner, a diet plan, or an exercise device, it doesn't matter - the same sales pitch is used.  Diet plans are particularly notorious for this.  The "before" photo shows someone frowning, slouched, with their hair unkempt.  The photo is shaded and dark and the angle, unflattering.  The "after" photo is bright, the person is standing up straight, their hair done, and they are smiling!  You might not even notice that they really haven't lost any weight.

We all fall for this, of course, even in ordinary commerce.   You buy a car and you think it will change your life forever - or at least make it marginally better.  But within a few months, well, it is just another used car, you have 48 months of payments to make on it, and you just scratched the fender driving it out of the garage.  The older you are, of course, the less this effect is noticeable.  By age 50, buying a car seems more like a chore than fun - you know they are going to try to snooker you, and you are not emotionally involved as much in the process.  But a 22-year-old salivates at the prospect of being able to buy a hot little hatchback, even if is just a glorified econo-bucket.   That's why marketers love that age 15-35 demographic - they still believe in the magic unicorn of commerce and consumerism.

Lately, I have noticed a trend in small table-top appliances.  It seems every six months or so, some new counter-hog comes along, promising to "change your life forever".   Now, granted, these sort of things have been around for a long time - before I was born.   They just are re-imagined for a new generation.  Informercials pushed the George Foreman Grill, or the Ronco Chicken Rotisserie.  Everyone went through that phase where they "had to have" a Paninni press, instead of just mashing your grilled cheese sandwich on a frying pan.  And of course, there were all the fancy coffee machines.  And don't forget the popcorn machine craze of the 1970's - followed by the air-popper craze of the 1980's - before the microwave replaced both.

The Keurig was the first of this modern era of counter-hogs, promising to "change your life forever!" by letting you make hot beverages from little Patented cartridges which cost 2-5 times as much as ground coffee or basic teabags (the original cartridge drink).  The machines were expensive and huge, at first, and after a while, they clogged up, as I found out when someone gave me one that stopped working (hint: they do make a cleaning solution - a de-liming agent - for these things).   But the idea of spending $99 or $199 on a coffee machine that locks me in to buying my food in cartridges made no sense to me.

Well, that was ages ago.  Funny thing, these machines are still around, but the prices have dropped considerably.  Not only that, but I don't see as many cartridges for sale anymore.  Could it have been a fad?  Perhaps - we'll see.  The point is, at one time, people told me "Oh, you have to have one!" and I took a pass, and time went on, and neither of our lives changed very much.

The next counter-hog was the Insti-pot, which is a cross between a crock-pot (the counter-hog craze of the 1970's - which can be had for as little as $10 today) and a traditional pressure cooker.  Our lives would change forever! - we were told.  And online, all I heard about was Insti-pot this, and Insti-pot that - of course, not by accident.  Yes, they shill these things on the Internets.

Well, I suspect a lot of Insti-pots have made their way into cupboards, and the appliance that was going to change the way you cook forever! hasn't.   And if you didn't buy one during the height of the craze, well, worry not, they are selling knock-offs for cheap these days.

The latest gag is the air fryer.   Again, someone is hyping this somewhere and several friends of mine have bought these.  We'll fry our potatoes and be healthy! - not realizing that the worst part of fried potatoes isn't the frying, but the potatoes themselves - the carbohydrates and calories.  Like anything else, eating in moderation they aren't bad for you.  But you aren't going to turn an unhealthy 1000-calorie plate of french fries into a health food by air frying it.

But they sell, and I see them in my friend's houses, and I am sure that eventually they will make their way into a cupboard somewhere, next to the insti-pot, the keurig, and whatever other counter-hog that stopped getting used.

Granted, some "air fryers" have been combined into toaster oven, and I believe Cuisinart makes one.  Now, I am a big fan of toaster ovens (being old and all) but that particular model is so tall, it won't fit on your countertop, without hitting the cabinet above.   I just don't see the advantage of taking a toaster oven (a $25 appliance) and turning it into this counter-hog $199 nightmare.

Of course, some of these counter-hog promoted items fall flat on their face.  Juicers have been around for decades - my parents had an art-deco one from their wedding in 1948.   But lately, people have been on this kick that somehow if you juice things, it's healthy.  But often what they are juicing amounts to little more than a milkshake, or a 1000-calorie fruit punch.   A new generation of fancy juice machines has sprung up to meet this demand.  Taking a cue from Keurig, the Juicero people thought they could make juice into a cartridge deal - but it fell flat on its face when people discovered you could just squeeze the bags by hand and let the juice out.

One might argue the Juicero was an anomaly, but I think it is just a ridiculous example of how stupid single-use appliances are - or at least expensive, counter-hog single-use appliances.   In any sort of "money-saving" blog or article, by the way, "single use appliances" are often singled out as an example of a utter waste of money.

A reader writes that they love their waffle iron, and indeed, there really is no other way to make waffles without one.   But then again, it is an appliance you get out to make the food in question and then put away.  It doesn't sit on the counter all the time, unless you shell out $199 for one of those fancy "Belgian waffle" makers.  A regular waffle iron can be had at the discount store for under $25.

But then again, like so much else, having waffles every day for breakfast would sort of be boring - and it is a carbo-nightmare, particularly with maple syrup on it (please, no "Mrs. Butterworth's" high-fructose corn syrup nightmare!).   Things that are a once-in-a-while treat should remain that way.  French fries should be served scalding hot, with a side of ketchup, mayonnaise, or vinegar, dripping with hot oil from a deep fryer.  Soggy fries blow-dried with a hair-dryer just aren't the same.  And no, buying a "fry daddy" isn't going to repeat the restaurant experience.  Leave the deep fryers to the restaurants, for once-in-a-while meals.

There are appliances that people need and use.  If you cook, you'll need a good mixer.  If you make drinks, you'll need a good blender - they still make the original Fred Waring model in all its art deco glory.  Beyond that, not much else, although any good Asian or Cuban kitchen needs a rice maker.

The best small appliances are timeless and inexpensive.  They are not going to be the ones hyped on the Internet or on an infomercial. You can drive yourself broke buying "the latest and greatest new thing!" whether it is an automated steak fryer or the latest gaming console.  A better approach is to wait and see where this is going - and ask your clueless friends if they are still using product x after six months.  Chances are, half the time, it is stuck on a shelf somewhere.  But if not, by waiting - even a short period of time - you'll find that product, or one just like it, half-price on sale, as the buzz dissipates.

UPDATE:  Mr. See reminds me of some more useless appliances.  Having worked at Williams Sonoma and Sheets 'n Things, he saw a lot of weird stuff.  He had a chance to bring some home at scratch-n-dent fire sale prices, but took a pass on most of them.  Yes, we still have a Pannini press, and it gets used less than once a year, if that.

There was a fad for a while for a donut machine, where you poured batter into a circular mold and dribbled oil on it and them combined the two halves like a waffle iron.  I am not sure that is how donuts are made, traditionally.

Then there was the hot dog maker - a toaster with two round holes for accepting hot dogs, and a slot for the buns.  Must have been gross to clean up.

For a while, in the wholesale club, they had a three-crock-pot rack that had three tiny crockpots.  I guess you were supposed to put different flavors of meatballs in each crock, "for the big game" - but it struck me as kind of a one-use appliance.   Of course, they are all sold at alarmingly low prices - which makes them seem "affordable" until you add up the costs over time.

Turkey fryers?  William Shatner nearly burned down his house with one!  A lot of people have "low country boil" cookers around here - giant 40-quart pots that sit on a cooker that attaches to a propane tank.  Great for boiling 50 pounds of shrimp for that family reunion.  Sort of clutters up your garage the rest of the time.   Saw one for sale at a garage sale once, I took a pass.  Still have memories of the $3000 gas grill - that was an idiotic purchase if there ever was one!

And no, that didn't change my life forever either!

UPDATE: A reader reminds me about the 1990's craze for bread machines.  A friend gave us one (free, a price I can cope with) and we do use it once a week.  It is a counter- hog and Mr. See has set up a bread kitchen in the laundry room as a result.

Wait long enough, this junk is free.  But it still doesn't change your life much, if at all....