Save our sandwich presses

"Fluffy bread becomes crisp and crusty; hard cheese becomes hot and gooey."
"Fluffy bread becomes crisp and crusty; hard cheese becomes hot and gooey." Photo: Simone De Peak

In my random but regular observations of kerbside waste, there's one item I see time and time again: the sandwich press. With municipal e-waste growing up to three times faster than general waste in Australia (according to Sustainability Victoria), surely the sandwich press is something we can stop throwing away and replacing?

Sandwich presses exist largely for the purpose of melting cheese between bread. They are one in a host of single-purpose electronics that have cluttered the cupboards and benchtops of kitchens in wealthy, Western democracies since the Second World War. 

If we want to reduce the number of sandwich presses going to landfill, it is essential to appreciate the sensory experience of melted cheese.

British literary scholar Steven Connor offers the concept of "senstance" to understand human investment in sensory and hedonic experiences. According to Connor, a senstance is "a sensation made substantial – a substance so closely twinned with a sensation as to have become consubstantial with it". Think latex, leather, honey and their relationship with skin. 

Connor lists "the brittle, the tenuous, the cool, the granular, the smooth and the matted" as ready-to-hand examples of senstances, a list to which I would like to add "the melty".

Cooking allows us to experience substances as material transformations. Making a sandwich in a press is among the most rudimentary ways to enjoy the sensory delight that comes from such molecular changes.

Fluffy bread becomes crisp and crusty; hard cheese becomes hot and gooey. We perhaps taste the difference all the more readily when we are the agents helping trigger the transformations.

One of the ways to reduce the number of sandwich presses going to landfill might be through designing versions  that are easier to repair. Most sandwich presses don't give the impression they can be opened up and pulled apart. Perhaps if the screws were larger, or if the inside was visible, people would be more likely to see if a part can be replaced?

And maybe if repair shops were easier to access, people would be more inclined to get their broken sandwich presses repaired rather than throwing them out?

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These are valid propositions that warrant further exploration, but is there a way to change mindsets so people don't feel the need for a sandwich press at all?

A cursory internet search will unearth plenty of toasted sandwich connoisseurship and many recipes suggest using a frying pan. A good pan will turn the sandwich a crisp golden brown, provide better temperature control than a press and, most importantly, allow you to see melty transformation in process. 

The key disadvantage of the frying pan is that it doesn't provide simultaneous heat from the top and the bottom (but just flip the sandwich over you lazy bugger). 

If a few more celebrity chefs started spruiking the frying pan's toasting abilities, surely that would go some way to reducing resources wasted for the purpose of eating melted cheese between bread?

Don't even get me started on benchtop pizza ovens. 

Tom Lee was named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Australian Novelists in 2019 for his debut novel Coach Fitz. He is a senior lecturer in design at the University of Technology Sydney and part of a research project looking at design and repair.