Is the Refrigerator Ruining Our Food?

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In industrialized nations, food and refrigerators go together like PB&J. But is the very thing we entrust with keeping our food from spoiling actually harming it? That’s what designer Jihyun Ryou contends in her project  Save Food From the Fridge. She argues that refrigerators not only foster food waste, but the conditions inside can actually harm many of the foods we routinely store in them without a second thought. Eggs, root vegetables, and fruits are all items Ryou says would not only taste better, but be more nutritious if stored (properly) outside the chilly confines of the refrigerator.

Why shouldn’t certain foods go in the fridge?

Ryou argues that the convenience of refrigerators has robbed us of a great deal of collective knowledge that humans have accumulated over thousands of years about food preservation.

We unload our groceries into the refrigerator, without considering whether it serves a purpose besides keeping our food cold. A refrigerator is set at one temperature, and oftentimes it’s too cold for many food items, she says. Many food times also require different levels of moisture.

And ironically, the very thing invented to make our food last longer, has made it easier to forget about. Who hasn’t unearthed some weeks-old rotten entity from the bottom of the crisper?

But what’s the alternative? 

As an alternative, she’s designed a series of minimalist shelves that are as much about displaying foods beautifully as they are about preserving them properly.

Take root vegetables for instance, veggies people routinely store horizontally in the refrigerator. She says that this tendency causes carrots, leeks, etc. to lose their energy. Her solution is to store root vegetables vertically in sand and not touching one another. Sand controls moisture and allows veggies to be stored without touching, which is important because veggie on veggie contact can accelerate rotting.

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How about eggs?

She argues that eggs are also better off stored outside of the refrigerator because the porous egg shells absorb other odors from various food items found in a refrigerator. These odors can seep into the eggs and give them a bad taste. But the problem with eggs compared to produce is that rotten eggs don’t look any different from fresh ones. So Jihyun designed a shelf that includes a simple means of testing the eggs reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials. If the egg floats, it is guilty, or rotten. If it sinks, you know it’s fresh.

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She goes through a few other examples, including how to store fruits, that are oftentimes confused for vegetables such as zucchini, bell peppers and eggplants. She suggests keeping these fruits outside and watering them once a day so they maintain moisture.

Ok. So should I get rid of my refrigerator?

No! Unless you really want to. There are lots of food items that are much safer to keep in the refrigerator, especially meat and fish (although there are other ways of preserving those items too-salting, drying, smoking, fermenting.) Plus, it’s never a good idea to completely overhaul something as important as food preservation overnight. Experiment with a few of her tips, and see how it goes.

Ultimately her goal is “to bring back a closer relation between food and people.”