The Refrigerator Story

Article Summary

  • Americans have the biggest refrigerators in the world — 17.5 cubic feet of volume on average.
  • Fridge conveys the value of refrigeration:
  1. preserving food from spoiling
  2. creating convenience for consuming a variety of food
  • Starting in the early 19th century, ice merchants sell ice from New England to warmer climes to sell for a profit-American “natural ice” industry. Ice became a necessity for Americans to preserve food
  • In the early 20th century, ice market turned into icebox market: an ice block in the drawer
  • Drawbacks of using ice as refrigeration material:
  1. Iceboxes had to be scrubbed out regularly
  2. Ice needs constant supply
  3. Can’t open icebox too often as ice will melt
  • Yet icebox still became more prevalent and size grew bigger
  1. Prevalence Reason: development of the cold chain system

As city develops, people depend on distant centers of food supply. A supply chain that transports perishable goods using refrigeration at every step of the way is developed. Cold storage warehouses, refrigerated trucks, grocery store displays, residential icebox is the end point. Household follows the trend of the cold chain, made the icebox a home necessity; icebox evolved even faster than refrigeration machines used in the middle of the cold chain. A real refrigerated railway car was not perfected until the 1950s. The refrigerated shipping container is even more recent.

1st commercially viable electric refrigerator was the Domelre invented in 1913 by Fred Wolf, a small air-cooled box that customers place on top of their iceboxes. By the 1920s, the refrigerator market continue to grow fast, even during the Great Depression, and was saturated by the end of World War II. Adoption rate is faster than clothes washer and the color television.Thus big icebox becomes a cultural phenomena, even poor family owns one.

2. Size reason: Neglect of energy conservation

Americans have always had abundant natural resources, don’t care about energy efficiency/operation cost like Europeans. Once weekly shopping trips gradually become an American/Canadian cultural habit. Large storage capacity is required to keep all the perishables they acquire on that trip. Large fridge become American emblem as well.

Refrigerator lust has serious consequences for the planet’s future as it drives huge energy-use increases in the developing world. But if there is no fridge, people diet will lost variety, and life will be less convenient. And even if households stop using the fridge, refrigeration all along the cold chain will still contribute to global warming. Society’s goal should not be forcing consumers to give up too much for the sake of the environment, but be making fridges more energy efficient.

My thoughts

The size of our refrigerators, like the food we keep inside them, tells us something about our culture, our lifestyle and our values.

I think this statement is very true. As a Chinese who have experiences of both cultures, I see huge differences in the community lives between Chinese and American neighborhoods. And those differences are certainly manifested in the sheer size of the fridge.

The 1st difference is the neighborhood topography. American rural neighborhood usually consists of townhouses, and the roads between the rows of townhouses are super wide and straight. The supermarket or convenience store for American neighborhood usually locates farther away from the residential area. People need to drive to those places to buy groceries that are enough for a whole week of supply. To the contrary, the roads in traditional Chinese towns are narrow and curvy. There will be farmers market located in the narrow streets every morning, and people would get up at 5 or 6 o’clock to buy groceries for the same day.

Neighborhood Topography Comparison

So the idea here is that the neighborhood topography differences influenced the lifestyles between the two countries. And because of this, it is almost required for each American household to have a huge fridge to support such lifestyle. As for Chinese, their lifestyles don’t see the fridge size to be a determining factor of their life quality.

Another factor that influenced lifestyle is the values people from each culture believe in. In American culture, the grocery shopping is merely a task. And the supermarket is just a destination that allow them to complete the task. American value the shopping activity to be a chore and certainly want to perform it as less as possible. As a result, the fridge in America needs to be big to support such task shopping culture.

Cultual Value Comparison

However in Chinese culture, people value the buying activity to be an essential part of their social life. If you happen to visit those morning markets some time, you will see many people seem to be done with their shopping long time ago, but they are still standing in groups and chatting very loudly along the street. People simply don’t want to go to the indoor supermarket because they will loose the opportunity to social with their neighbors if they do so. Therefore, Chinese people enjoy the shopping activity, and certainly don’t mind to do it every day. Therefore, the fridge in China don’t need to be big to support such social shopping culture.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.