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Sunday Scaries: What's in your refrigerator?

Sunday night has rolled around again, and my fridge is empty, desolate even. Aside from the permanent pickles and stable sauces, it appears as though there’s nothing left to cook in my fridge. Since my bank account looks light and Friday festivities lead me to eat out more than I should, I decided to make the dreaded walk to Trader Joe’s to perouse for produce and other fresh items while waiting in a line wrapped around the entire store.

Once I return home, my fresh grocery elation becomes interrupted by the discovery of moldy cream cheese, sour swiss chard, and some pungent mushy pears. How does this keep happening? It seems as though I never have enough food to eat, yet almost every time I get more food, I discover that more food has gone bad. What’s the explanation for this paradox of always having too much yet not enough food?

It’s our refrigerators! To keep it short, they’re just too damn big. The average fridge today is 22.5 cubic feet, which is an additional 3 extra cubic feet than the fridges from the 1980s. While this may not seem like a big deal, this minor increase in fridge size has caused Americans to eat, on average, 600 more calories per day. Both men and women in America weigh about 20 pounds more today than we did in the 1980s. The bigger fridge size makes us buy more and eat more, literally and figuratively weighing us down one cubic foot at a time.

Not only are we eating more, but we’re also wasting more. Lisa Young, a nutrition professor at New York University, claims that bigger fridges have caused us to “waste more than ever before.” The increase in our refrigerator size is hurting us on all ends: we’re buying more than we need so we’re either throwing it out or storing it in our bellies. Why exactly is the minor increase in fridge size so powerful?

Because we fear empty space. It’s similar to the big dinner plate dilemma. When we take bigger dinner plates, we feel as though we should fill up our plate, as any white spaces indicate that we don’t have a satisfying serving. However, full dinner plates often cause us to overeat because we clear our dinner before processing how full we are. The fridge predicament drives our psychology in a similar manner. We fear seeing empty drawers and white space in our fridge, so we try to fill up our fridges as much as possible, and even buy more food despite having enough to last us a couple days. The increase in fridge size from the 1980s has pushed us as consumers to buy more than we need, and we’re cutting our losses in our waste and our waist.

We have to address our fear of empty space; 1-2 college students don’t need enough food to fill up the triple door Samsungs or family sized Kitchen Aids. One solution is to look for apartments with smaller fridges. European fridges, particularly in Southern Europe, pale in comparison to the mega storage offered here in the States. They are typically shorter and less deep, making them more compact and better fit for a smaller kitchen. This leads many Europeans to shop a bit each day, purchasing food for the next two days instead of the next two weeks. Smaller fridges and smaller, more frequent grocery trips can help prevent the habits of overeating and wasting food that plague most Americans.

For many of us, the size of our fridge is out of our control, but we can improve our ingredient management. I

love to use This website lets you select all the leftover ingredients you have in your fridge and generates a list of recipes from around the world that you can make with your humble selection. It’s perfect for those late, cozy Sunday nights when you don’t want to leave your apartment. It’ll expose you to some delicious dinner ideas while helping you get rid of those pesky sweet potatoes or broccoli florets we keep forgetting to cook.

Aside from these tips, you can also try to stock up on more frozen or canned items so you always know you have some staples to rely on when food stocks run low. Also, when you go grocery shopping, you can take the old food from the back and move it to the front so you’re reminded to finish it before turning to your new set of food items. I know this helped me realize that I was buying more than I needed because I was unaware of how much food I had in my fridge at a time. My last tip to help overcome the American refrigeration epidemic is to simply accept that your fridge will be empty sometimes, and that’s ok. There’s almost always something lying around that you could make for a tasty lunch or quick snack. Sometimes you may truly have nothing left to eat, but then you know it’s time for a grocery run.


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