Death & The Art of Refrigeration (an excerpt)

The contents of a refrigerator can reveal a great deal about a person’s life. I am painfully aware that my refrigerator screams of loneliness. During a recent stop at home I became convinced it actually mocks me. After a quick bite of Chinese take-out, while I brushed my teeth over the condo’s kitchen sink, I heard it hum in a low grumble, aaaa-lone…aaaaa-lone. I could be misinterpreting the hums. They could be guilting me into staying: come-home…come-home.

I keep it well stacked with mayo, soy sauce, spicy mustards, three types of vinaigrettes and all kinds of cream—coffee creamer, whipping cream, hazelnut cream—a true condiment haven. It houses very little actual food: three black bananas seeping like moth cocoons reside on the veggie drawer, two out of twelve tortillas are sprawled on the middle shelf, dry and cracked curling at the ends, but no protein to stuff them with, and an amorphous clump in Styrofoam that was either hot wings or last month’s Sweet and Sour special. In the back sits a lone box of Arm & Hammer working overtime to keep the smells at bay. It’s far from perfect but it’s mine. My smells. My hums.

Now, I rummage through the bowels of Daniel’s fridge for another Corona. Here, in one of Philadelphia’s most coveted suburbs, his stainless GE tells quite a different story. For starters it’s wall-to-wall wines: Cabernets, Zinfandels, Chardonnays, Merlots and the like. No hums. Also no baking soda needed—Daniel’s fridge is sterile and reeks with the odor of cleansers.

As I look past the chilled bottles I spot a gallon of milk tucked in the back. This last gulp of two percent speaks volumes about the new role of widower thrust upon Daniel. It depicts a dad too numbed by his wife’s death to notice the kids will be out of milk for their morning cereal. I continue snooping and start a mental shopping list. The kids need access to easy-to-make, comfort foods: strawberry Pop Tarts, glazed donuts, sticky buns, chocolate chip muffins, and Rocky Road ice cream—all that is processed and sugared and good in the world. Oh yeah, and the milk to wash it all down. After all, who wants to cook at a time like this? Who would want to cook, period?

Daniel (and I) could learn a little something from the world’s best refrigerators. The most efficient ice box I’ve ever seen was a Frigidaire model powered by an ancient generator in the fishing village of Steung Hauv, Cambodia. These fishermen did not mess around. Limited space meant every square inch stored only the essentials: butter catfish or eel from the river, forest rabbits, and slabs of marbled beef, all frozen and layered like a well-stuffed lasagna. Any space left was used for storing daily veggies—Efficient Refrigeration 101.

Unlike their Western counterparts, these guys would never waste valuable square footage packing a fridge with sparkling Perrier or cans of overpriced caviar. This practice might confuse them into believing they needed a bigger fridge when all that’s required is a lesson in priorities—easier said than done for U.S. consumers lost in “The Land That Common Sense Forgot.”

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