September 27th, 2019
Refrigerators represent chilling innovation
TUES. | 11-17-20 | OPINION
“Lexi, grab more tomatoes from the walk-in fridge. The fridge should be back to normal now.”
Working in the kitchen of a farm-to-table restaurant, Ford + Shep, requires a lot of preparatory work and a lot of our operation would not be possible without the invention of the refrigerator. From filling up sixth pans with pickled tomatoes to last the weekend of fried pickled tomato orders to filling sixth pans with a backup slaw for the porkchop dish, the refrigerator is what enables such efficiency at restaurants like Ford + Shep. From fine-dining establishments to fast-food restaurants, refrigeration is what allows consumers to readily enjoy and purchase typically perishable products en masse.
Refrigeration technology went through many different stages between the 18th-20th century, with the commercial refrigerator not
Graphic by Lexi Karaivanova
being in production until about the late 19th century. Big Chill, an appliance company, notes that the first electrical refrigerator was not even on the market until 1927; General Electric was selling their fridge for around $500 (which is $7,000 today). By 1944, “85% of American households owned a refrigerator.” Prior to the fridge as we know it, households relied on an icebox and their diets did not consist of nearly as many perishable goods.
This is reflected in the Von Thunen Model which depicted the optimal zone for different types of farmers to be in to maximize profit. The first concentric zone around the city was considered ideal for dairy farming and market gardening; they were closest to the city because of their perishability and the risks such goods would undergo in travel. But, with the innovation of the fridge, Von Thunen’s model was no longer as applicable and distance was not as big of a concern.
Modern-day farmers’ markets are a perfect example of this. If you talk to all the different vendors in attendance, you’d be shocked at how long some of them travel with their goods. At the farmers’ markets in Greenville, many of the vendors come from the outskirts of Greenville, Farmville, or Washington; some even come from obscure towns like Walstonburg.
By expanding the travel radius of farmers, areas that are typically food deserts can be better accommodated for. Food deserts, by definition, “are regions where people have limited access to healthful and affordable food,” either because of distance or income constraints. Because food is vital to life, it would be preferable for individuals in food deserts to not have to travel unnecessarily; this is where refrigeration comes in to bridge the gap. Because of refrigeration, perishable goods can have longer life spans and reach more people, which ultimately alters the dietary priorities. Since the 1890’s, the American diet has incorporated more meat and dairy, meaning less farmed goods go to waste.
While the average person may not be thinking about the fridge, I am in a position where I am cognizant of its importance because I would be unemployed without proper refrigeration.
When COVID-19 restrictions began to be lifted, and I rejoiced at the idea of returning to work, I was not expecting to go in for only two weeks and then be told: “Hey, the fridge is broken so we’re going to close again.” Single-handedly, the walk-in fridge controlled the fate of my employment.
The day the thermostat hit below 40 °F, I cried tears of happiness. All because of a working