Bigger isn't always better

RefrigeratorWaistlines aren't the only things to have grown in the United States over the last few decades: our refrigerators have as well. Gawker's Dan Nosowitz makes the arguments for why we should consider downsizing our refrigerators.

Nosowitz points out that on average, refrigerators in the U.S. are more than twice the size as refrigerators in Europe (22 cubic feet vs. 10 cubic feet). They're getting bigger, too. Browse any appliance website and you can see monstrous units that break the 30-cubic-foot mark. Part of the reason our fridges are so large is that we keep too many things in them, notes Nosowitz. He says that items like hot sauce, mustard, vinegars, and most oils don't need to be refrigerated, because they won't go bad and most won't even develop off flavors for months.

Another problem with large refrigerators is that they can lead to unhealthy eating habits. A study of warehouse food shoppers found that "families that have more food in the house eat more food. If your freezer is large enough to house the family SUV and is full of ice cream because you bought it in bulk on a deal, you're going to eat more of that ice cream than if you'd just bought a single carton for your sensibly-sized freezer." That may seem obvious, but in addition to eating more, people with larger refrigerators likely waste more food too. It's estimated that the average American throws away 25% of the food and drink purchased in a year.

Nosowitz advocates buying groceries more often, "a few times a week or even near-daily, and the only things in your fridge should be stuff you plan to eat immediately and maybe a few jars of preserves and condiments and sauces." That's easier said than done in today's hectic society. Not everyone lives conveniently close to a grocery store and has the time to devote to a daily grocery shop.

Another point Nosowitz makes is that big refrigerators cost more, both to purchase and to operate. Anyone who has shopped for refrigerators recently probably faced sticker shock at the prices. Nevertheless, you may have to pry our large refrigerator door handles out of our cold, dead hands. The siren song of a large fridge, where everything is neatly stored, easy to find, and that can accommodate that tall layer cake without it getting smooshed, is enticing to many people. What do you think? Are U.S. fridges bloated behemoths or necessary given our busy lifestyles and distant supermarkets?

7 Comments

  • boardingace  on  7/30/2014 at 10:27 AM

    Sounds like an interesting approach that would only work for those who have the time to shop daily for fresh produce. And his point about not needing to refrigerate condiments seems odd: If "most won't even develop off flavors for months," and I want it to keep for 6 months, then I'd still need to keep it in the fridge! It's a great perspective to keep in mind if one can do it, but it doesn't seem like it would work well for 90% of Americans.

  • ozshutterbug  on  7/30/2014 at 11:22 PM

    I noticed the HUGE fridges when I've visited the US a few times... along with the BIG houses, BIG gardens, BIG bedrooms, BIG cars etc. It's a cultural thing. I did notice that several items that I keep in my pantry are refrigerated by my American friends... e.g. refrigerating 20 bottles of water, instead of a few that you may drink today & tomorrow.

  • pokarekare  on  7/31/2014 at 8:00 PM

    One huge advantage of a big fridge in Australia, is storing and preparing fresh food for family occasions, parties, Christmas etc. Can you imagine storing kilos of fresh seafood in the pantry in midsummer?. aside from that, I would have no problem with a small fridge as most of my vegetables come from the garden. On the other hand, my freezer is always full but I dare not buy a bigger freezer because that would soon fill up too! Actually, my dream is for a cool room and walk-in freezer - I think I must have starved in a previous life! ;)

  • Rinshin  on  8/2/2014 at 1:29 AM

    My refrigerator, mini-refrigerator and freezer are totally packed. I can't live any other way. Makes cooking easier this way for me because I have most items I need to cook.

  • FuzzyChef  on  8/3/2014 at 1:05 AM

    Given that I live in an San Francisco apartment, I have an European-sized fridge. This really hasn't been a problem for me; if I didn't want to cook every ethnicity in the world (and thus have 1/3 of a fridge full of stuff like shrimp paste and elderflower syrup), it would even be roomy. However, I also live 1.5 blocks from a grocery store, so it's easy for me to not keep very much in the fridge. Folks who live in the country need to stock up, and I probably would if I was there too.

  • Queezle_Sister  on  8/3/2014 at 9:08 PM

    Those big American refrigerators are actually not always the most expensive. I am hopefully nearing the end of a kitchen remodel, and the counter depth (nominally 24 inches deep) refrigerators are about 2/3 the volume of a "normal" refrigerator, and about 50% more expensive. I will be getting a counter depth model, despite its price. And yea, boardinglace, I'm in agreement - I don't want something to have off flavors in the next few months!!!

  • FunkyViriditas  on  8/4/2014 at 6:44 AM

    I downsized in 2007 to a half-size fridge (don't know the cubic size). From the outside, it looks small but there's a surprising amount of space inside. It is big enough for me and another person to shop separately and keep food in the fridge. (We shop once or twice a week each) The one downside is the small freezer. Often, I will take the packaging off of boxed frozen food to save space. I love that my smaller refrigerator allows me to be eco-friendly in the kitchen.

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