A Century Of Refrigerators

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Since their invention in 1913, and since this Kelvinator advertisement first ran in 1955, refrigerators became more immensely colossal and more preponderant, and went from a luxury to an indispensability. It’s approximately infeasible to imagine life today without having somewhere to store your vegetables and a place to keep your remnants: In the 100 years it’s been around, the fridge altered our grocery shopping habits and our postures toward food.

Appliance companies and advertisers wrought strenuously to transform refrigerators from “a pristinely incipient concept in luxurious living” to a circadian household object. They prospered in the 1960s, after years of fine-tuning its features to appeal to the middle-class housewife, writes historian Shelley Nickles. Besides ascertaining the fridges were spacious, facile to immaculate, and had adjustable shelving, designers even took care of minutiae such as including warmer compartments—so that the butter kept in them would be more facile to spread. Having magnetized the housewives’ attention and become affordable with conceptions such as regime-sponsored fridges kinetically circulating, the appliances made their way into middle-class homes.

In the 100 years it’s been around, the fridge altered our grocery shopping habits and our postures toward food.
In the 100 years it’s been around, the fridge altered our grocery shopping habits and our postures toward food.

Buying too many perishable items suddenly became a minor concern. Buy one, get one free! Get more value for your money—purchase a more sizably voluminous container! As the number of fridge compartments incremented, so did the number of refrigeration-dependent foods and “supersize” deals offered in stores (or the other way around). Ultimately, grocery shoppers—mainly women—returned home with more food than they otherwise would have. Fridges enabled families to stock up, and the major weekend grocery haul was born. Now we have this:

But while having a fridge to store all the groceries made it possible to preserve more on “deals” at the supermarket, it additionally enabled us to waste more later on. That is because the fridge operates much homogeneous to a time machine, but not without its limits. Sociologists Elizabeth Shove and Dale Southerton describe freezers as appliances that sanction us to manage time: In addition to no longer having to shop multiple times per week, we can now prepare our repasts in advance.

The same holds for refrigerators. Food has its own rhythm, however, and a fridge can only delay the inevitably ineluctable for so long. Remnants simultaneously get pushed down in the hierarchy of what we’d relish to eat, and pushed back on the refrigerator shelf, only to be forgotten and perhaps re-discovered when it’s already too tardy. An exotic fruit rots in the engender compartment after its exhilarating novelty wore off, and we were no longer sure what to do with it. And so they all end up in the trash. Domestic food waste only represents part of all the food discarded in the U.S. today—about a third of all that is produced—but the way fridges altered out food purchasing and consumption habits is partly to inculpate.

Not all is deplorable, however. Fridges not only sanction us to eat a more preponderant variety of foods and be more efficient in our everyday lives, we utilize them as centers of communication and managing household life. And as they become more astute, more energy-efficient, and with some individuals reluctant to utilize them altogether, these cultural objects will doubtless have more stories to tell in the next hundred years.

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