One weekend not long ago I found myself on eBay, bidding for three replacement parts for my 35-year-old Cuisinart food processor. Duct tape had held the pusher assembly together for the last few years, and, while not ideal, it was working fine. But suddenly that weekend, when I was grating carrots, the small tab that locks down the lid snapped off and scuttled across the floor. Since the Cuisinart won’t work unless the lid is locked in place, I was at a crossroads: buy a new food processor or look for replacement parts?
This decision is usually a no-brainer for me—hooray! I get to buy a new appliance without feeling guilty! But this time I was hesitating.
I bought the Cuisinart in 1984, at the end of my first year of graduate school at Princeton. My husband and I were part of a gang of five couples who got together for monthly potluck dinners, each of us hosting the event on a rotating basis. (How we organized ourselves without smartphones and texting is a question for another post.) At a dinner that spring, one of the wives showed up with a brochure about food processors and suggested we order them together.
Whether or not to join in the purchase was a huge decision for me. First, the price tag of $165 ($399 in 2019 dollars) was staggering. I’d come from a frugal family and didn’t part with money lightly, especially on a grad student stipend. Second, I’d bought very few kitchen tools for myself, relying mainly on hand-me-downs and wedding gifts. For me, buying an appliance that I could only imagine my mother tsk-tsking, especially if she knew what it cost, would be crossing a new kind of adult Rubicon.
On the other hand, I’d loved to cook since I was a small girl pulling up a chair to the counter in our 1960’s subdivision kitchen. My sister and I helped our mom make dinner every night, and on Saturday afternoons we three baked together. We made Saturday-night pizza, cinnamon rolls or coffee cake for Sunday, and usually some cake-mix cupcakes or cake layers for the week ahead.
But after I became a vegetarian in college, my cooking curiosity and independence soared. Practically overnight I forgot my mom’s pot roast and tuna-on-toast recipes and discovered dishes I’d never heard of before. The first cookbook I bought was Diet for a Small Planet, based on the now debunked system of complementary proteins. I moved on to the Moosewood Cookbookand The Tao of Cooking.(Remember, there was no Internet, no Google search, no food bloggers.) I read my cookbooks like novels and dog-eared the pages of recipes I wanted to try.
Some of the dishes I was desperate to make required a food processor. I distinctly remember trying to devise hacks to make soybean burgers, like mashing them with a pastry blender, but to no avail. That frustration, combined with peer pressure, budding autonomy, culinary aspirations, and the sheer joy of acquisition pushed me into joining the others and buying a Cuisinart DLC 7 Pro, 14-cup capacity.
When the food processor arrived (several weeks later—no 2-day Prime shipping), I basked in my new-owner’s pride. This impressive machine was boxy like the Volvos of the time, heavy too, with a case of white plastic and black lettering (no copper or brushed stainless options then). The only two buttons read “On” and “Pulse/Off.” The blade was saber-sharp, and the motor, strong like a mini tank.
I made my soybean burgers and was in heaven. I moved on to hummus, pesto, salad dressings, chopped herbs at scale, graham cracker crumbs, nut butters, and the blue-cheese-pecan spread recipe that I found in the user’s manual. I tried the bread blade for baguettes, though I eventually came to prefer the no-knead approach. I used (and still do) the regular blade for pie crusts. The Cuisinart was my rocket ship to new culinary universes—Middle-Eastern and Indian food in particular—previously unknown and untasted. Fast-forward to when I became a vegan 9 years ago. The Cuisinart came with me. Lately I’ve been obsessed with date paste, which only the food processor seems to get right every time.
Cooking gradually became a major part of my identity. Somehow I went from strictly following recipes for soybean and cottage cheese casseroles to creating and sharing my own recipes on my vegan website, giving cooking classes, and voicing strong opinions about food at the drop of a hat. Since 1984, I’ve never stopped trying new dishes, consolidating what I like, learning from mistakes, and moving on to new experiments. The Cuisinart has always been part of that exploration. It’s survived seven moves across thousands of miles with never a hiccup or whine.
When I took a peek at what I could buy now if I abandoned my 1984 model, I saw that the current Cuisinart 14-cup model is the most highly recommended. It still has just those two buttons, “On” and “Off/Pulse.” It’s available in four fancy finishes. And the price tag? $168 on Amazon today, much less in equivalent dollars than my old one.
In 1984 I had the chance to buy something else: an original Apple Macintosh, with 128K of RAM (yes 128K of working memory—today that would get you a single grainy jpeg photo). Princeton offered each student a Mac for $600. I considered it briefly. I ended up concluding that I didn’t need a personal computer because I’d already learned how to use the university mainframe for word-processing. What could be easier than walking or driving to the campus computer center, using a terminal there, and picking up my printing the next day?
Am I glad I chose the Cuisinart instead back then? I am. I’d have dumped the Mac a long time ago, kicking myself now for not having saved it. I still have the Cuisinart, kind of a buddy in the kitchen, reminding me of my 20-something self, poised to dive into a lifetime of food adventures.
I’ll be lucky if I age as well as the Cuisinart, which works perfectly again after my successful bids for replacement parts on eBay. I may need new parts myself in the coming decades: a knee replacement, a new hip, very likely cataract surgery. And if I have to get dental implants and eat soft foods? I know absolutely what I’ll use to puree them.