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Dishwashers - Saint Francis and the Amazing Technological Dream Machine

Saint Francis and the Amazing Technological Dream Machine
Seeing Dishwashers and Dishwashing from a Mindful, Spiritual Perspective
By Gene Sager

An innovative program at my college allowed me to “change the scene” from my usual teaching duties by exchanging teaching roles and homes with a professor from another college. I taught for one year at Harrisburg College in Pennsylvania. Since our families were about the same size and ages, our families joined us. My family and I spent a year in a newer, more high-tech, and for us, more “luxurious” home. The exchange provided us with a variety of new experiences.

Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi is sometimes known as the patron saint of Nature and the environment. Occasionally, he joins writer Gene Sager in a quest to understand modern culture.
The most educational experience occurred late on Halloween night. I took my children trick or treating in our neighborhood, and this despite the misty, blustery weather in Harrisburg. Among the trick or treaters was a man wearing a Franciscan habit. After I put the children to bed, I went to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher, and there stood Saint Francis, his funky habit dripping water on the fancy tile floor. I recalled that I had left the deck door unlocked and the kitchen light on. “I am Francesco Bernardone,” he said. “They call me ‘Francis’ here.”

Francis wanted to know what I was doing in the kitchen, so I introduced what the homeowners had called their “dream machine” – their easy-loader, high-pressure, hot-air-drying dishwasher. We were told to use it at least every other day. Something about corrosion and rubber seals. “High tech makes demands on us nowadays.” I chattered on nervously: “Anyway, it’s just one of the duties around here. I don’t want to bore you with little things like this.” But Francis was not put off by my apology. He said many little things make big things, and he wanted to learn about how we clean up and the role of the dream machine.

Eager to show Francis that I had some knowledge of the issues, I launched into the perennial debate about efficiency: All considered, does a dishwasher use less resources than handwashing?

I thought I should begin with the University of Bonn study which concluded that dishwashers are more efficient than handwashing. I told Francis how Treehugger website had praised the “Bonn boys’” experiment, but I hastened to add that Pro Bono Statistics refuted the Bonn, saying that some “human hand washers use far less energy than dishwashers”. (Man vs. Machine, Pro Bono Statistics, 9/24/08) The pattern of subsequent studies has been about the same. I said I would quickly summarize those studies. My nervous ramblings became more and more animated.

The patron of ecology listened patiently for a while. Then he raised his hand in a gentle gesture to relieve me of my frenetic argumentation. He turned to what he called the “inside story.” He said washing dishes by hand is an action of simplicity and humility. It is hands-on acceptance of the basic task of cleaning up. The effort used in handwashing yields a spiritual benefit. Francis spoke calmly and softly: “If you dirty your plate, you scrub it yourself.” This pronouncement left me speechless; I – normally the gabbiest person in Harrisburg – could find no response, least of all a word to counter him. He was referring to a spiritual or psychological value, one that we used to call “wholesome,” before the word was nearly phased out by other values.

Eco-friendly Dish Washing

If you must use a dishwasher, check its energy efficiency rating, and keep in mind that what was once considered energy-efficient may not be today. Sensor wash programs are designed to use the minimum amount of energy and water required.

Aside from your choice of machine, your actions can have an impact. Scrape rather than rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, only wash with a full load, use the low temperature/economic wash cycle, and turn off the water temperature boost and hot air drying cycle.

When washing by hand, do not let the tap run continuously for rinsing. Instead, use two bowls, dishpans, or sinks – one for washing and one for rinsing. Then recycle the water for watering trees, plants, or grass.

Francis asked me to continue with my discussion of green and efficiency issues: which is better for Mother Earth – hand washing or dishwashers? Francis wanted to know if we put containers in the sink to hold or catch the water used when we hand wash. The dream machine swallows up all the water it uses, but in our household, a bowl is used to hold the soap and water for handwashing. This water is then given to the trees. The rinse water is also saved and used for our garden. All household members pitch in, from table cleaning to composting to washing to dumping water outside. Francis laughed when I told him my neighbor says he uses his dishwasher – and here are my neighbor’s words – “so I can spend time with my family.” For Francis, time spent working with household members is time well spent.

On the topic of water temperature, I explained to Francis that people advocate dishwashers for maximum cleanliness and killing germs. He was mystified by this, saying, “Surely, soap and a good scrub is enough.” The majority opinion today is that since dishwashers can use very hot water, they can “sanitize” the dishes and kill the germs. Information and opinionation vary widely as to the preferred temperature. A study that supports the cool water view was done at Ohio State University (reported in the Chicago Tribune, research by Lee and Pascall). No doubt custom and culture influence us on these matters, and an example is beliefs about washing clothes; we used to think that we had to wash clothes in hot water to cut the dirt and kill the germs, but hot water wash is not a “must” any more. As for germs, we live in a germaphobe culture, so we may be in overkill mode. I smiled at Francis and tried out a very poor joke; “We Americans fear that Brother Germ is lurking everywhere, and we must kill him and all his kin.”

Saint Francis wanted to look inside the dishwasher one more time before leaving. The washing box has plastic-coated metal racks, and under these a set of switches to control all the cycles, a motor to run high pressure water sprayers, and a heater to provide hot air for drying the dishes when the washing is done. I had to tell Francis that we take resources from the earth to make these boxes, and, of course, electricity to run them.

New home buyers beware: Today, a dishwasher is just about as standard as a kitchen sink, although a few builders/developers will honor a pre-construction request to delete the dishwasher. Pre-owned home buyers can check the age and condition of the dishwasher when you buy a home; you may decide to retire it and go washer-free. Francis muttered this as he walked out onto our deck and disappeared: “You can make the dishwasher racks into shelves for storage.”

Saint Francis made a lasting impression on me, and, surprisingly, it was his “inside story” that had the strongest impact. I suppose down deep I knew we need more wholesome values instead of alleged convenience values. I knew it, but I had to hear it from a man in a funky brown habit.

Gene C. Sager is Professor of Environmental Ethics at Palomar College in San Marcos, California. He is a prolific and thoughtful writer on environmental and philosophical issues.

Saint Francis has appeared in a number of other articles by Gene Sager about modern life, including this one about simplicity, this one about deep car culture, this one about cell phones, and this one about shopping malls.
 

 

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