In 2007, I visited Toronto's Interior Design Show and saw the most beautiful kitchen; it was designed by architect Donald Chong, now with Williamson Chong. The kitchen was big, but the fridge was very small. I wrote:
When you enter Donald Chong's kitchen you see wood, food and warmth. The fridge is a small, undercounter unit — this is a seasonal kitchen, responding to the marketplace, the baker, vegetable store and neighbourhood vendor. You don't need a big fridge when you are committed to fresh and seasonal.
It's possible that shopping itself could improve health by ensuring a good supply of food for a healthy diet, ensuring exercise by walking around, and providing social interaction and companionship in the form of shopping buddies, the study said.
Since I first wrote about why we should have small fridges, the appliance has gone through extraordinary changes. The energy-efficiency has increased dramatically, while the prices have dropped and the sizes have increased. They burn a quarter as much energy as they did 40 years ago and cost about a third as much overall. And they keep getting bigger and quieter.
A giant Jennair. (Photo: Kelly Rossiter)
At the 2015 Interior Design Show, all you can find are these giant double-door units, surrounded by people going "Wow, I want that!" They are five and six feet wide, totally silent and really energy-efficient. So what's the problem? Isn't this what we want in our appliances?
Not necessarily. Brian Wansink, professor of behavioral economics at Cornell and author of "Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life," found that the more food we have in our fridge, the more we are likely to eat. He is quoted:
In general, the larger the refrigerator, the more we tend to keep in it. And the more food options there are, the more likely something is to catch your eye as being tasty.
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.
A monster Miele (Photo:Kelly Rossiter)
In an article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rees noted that "The size of our refrigerators, like the food we keep inside them, tells us something about our culture, our lifestyle and our values." Indeed it does. We have the ability to make our fridges larger and dramatically more efficient at the same time, contributing to a culture where we need bigger cars to carry it all, travel farther to the big box to save a few dollars, and fill that giant freezer with frozen prepared foods that have too much salt, sugar and fat.
We may not be consuming more energy with our big new fridges, but that doesn't make them a good thing. To expand on Chong's quote: Small fridges make good cities and healthy people.
Related in MNN and TreeHugger: