Cooling our food and warming our climate

‘The Black Fish’, Georges Braque, 1942

The acceptance of conveniences and the un-imaginability of living without them takes generations to build. The same is true for the narratives of ‘benefits’ which are manufactured over and over again to create the new normal. The route to be followed almost always goes from novelty to efficiency to indispensability.

Some seventy years back, only around 2% of British households had a refrigerator. In the next few decades, it saw the highest rate of adoption unrivalled by other kitchen appliances. By the ‘70s, the fridge had become an efficient, labour saving device for the middle class housewife who could now freeze her home batch cooking and reserve stocks. It was only after the development of the frozen food industry that a fridge came to mean access to food that didn’t fall under the category of self produced or supplies.

It was only when Refrigerator met Microwave, which was in the ’80s, that life truly changed. People’s relationship with the kitchen got redefined to the extent that the fridge today has taken over our kitchens and is central to us having access to food in our daily lives. It’s a mass consumed, taken for granted, everyone-has-at-least-one kitchen essential. A peep inside one can give away a lot about our life situation — our relationship status, income level, general well-being and orderliness. Not to forget Instagram, a must-visit for inspiration on how to achieve the perfectly curated fridge.

Ideally, having a fridge should have tackled the problem of food waste. Yet, almost half of all food that’s wasted comes from households. A lot of it is perfectly edible. We, in the UK, throw away 1.4m edible bananas each day. 22.4% of all bread, 38.7% of all lettuce, and 25.5% of every melon is thrown away. Nearly 12 weeks worth of groceries is wasted each year by the average British family. Part of the blame has been shifted to “use by” and “best before” dates. Perhaps we can protest being dumbed down by supermarkets and reclaim our right to use our senses.

The amount of food we throw decreases with age. Millennials are apparently the most reckless when it comes to throwing away food. They are also considered to be bad planners as most food that gets thrown away is either right after a big shopping trip or before or after a vacation. And then there is the issue of how multi-buy discounts on unhealthy food makes children consume more junk food leading to child obesity.

How is it then, that with the aid of technology, which humankind has come to revere over everything else, we are still not able to organise our lives and deal with such basic issues. Wasn’t this one of the promises of the refrigerator? We were bequeathed with the assurance of convenience so we could have more control over scheduling our daily lives, making our lives easier, and having more choice? Or perhaps the illusion of choice as we’ve come to become slaves to managing and organising our lives around our gadgets.

Over the years, the refrigerator has also been a big cause for concern and a major contributor to ozone layer depletion and global warming with its cocktail of hazardous chemicals. Both in the manufacturing of refrigerators and their operation, there is heavy dependence on fossil fuels that further create negative environmental impacts. To top this, approximately 3 million fridges are disposed of in the UK every year. Though it’s possible to recycle about 95% of the fridge, some parts still end up going into landfills.

Either we have failed the fridge or the fridge has failed us.