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.
Ever since I have been quoting his line: Small kitchens make good cities. Why? Because supporting your neighborhood grocers is good for the health of your local community and main street. Because you don't need a big car to go shopping once a week in the Walmart. Because there's a lot of evidence that it's healthier. A study in Taiwan determined that people who got out and shopped every day were 27 percent less likely to die over a 10-year period than those who shopped once a week. LiveScience thought about the reasons:
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.
Oprah looking at fridgeIt's totally common in Europe. Oprah was shocked when she visited a big and high-end apartment in Copenhagen to find that a family with three small children had a fridge barely larger than what we call a bar fridge in North America. People do not use their cars that much in town, so it's much easier to get what you need for a meal every day and carry it home in your arms or on your bike. The average fridge is about 10 cubic feet in Europe; in North America it's pushing 30. 

refrigerator sizes

Graphic: ASAP

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. 

jJennair Fridge photo

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.
He also found that the people who had side-by-side fridge and freezers tended to eat more of the less healthy stuff like ice cream from the freezer side, because it's easier to see and grab. He noted one study that showed people with side-by-side fridges were from four to eight pounds heavier than those with traditional top and bottom ones. As Dan Nosowitz put it in Gawker:
 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.
Having more space also leads to more waste, as all those vegetables rot in the bottom of the crisper and at the back of the fridge. You don't have a whole lot of room to leave things to rot in a small fridge. 

Meile fridge

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:

Inset photo: Screen capture from "Oprah Winfrey Show" video

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

Small fridges make good cities, healthier people
Our fridges keep getting bigger, cheaper and more efficient, but this could have serious effects on our health and our cities.