Fridges are a recent invention; for thousands of years, people lived without them, but had many low-tech ways of making food last. Today most fridges are filled with stuff that would last just as long and probably would taste a lot better if it was never lost in the back of the fridge. They are expensive air conditioned parking lots for what Shay Salomon called "compost and condiments."
Some are looking at alternatives to such an expensive and wasteful model. Kris De Decker of No Tech Magazine "refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution," and shows the work of Korean designer Jihyun Ryou, who says "we hand over the responsibility of taking care of food to the technology, the refrigerator. We don’t observe the food any more and we don’t understand how to treat it."
She has developed a series of modern designs that rely on traditional techniques, learned from her grandmother and other elderly people in the community, the " traditional oral knowledge which has been accumulated from experience and transmitted by mouth to mouth."
Here is an interesting and complicated example. Many fruits give off ethylene gas as they ripen; a lot of people put their tomatoes in paper or plastic bags to make them ripen faster. That's why putting fruit is a fridge is so silly, the ethylene builds up inside the sealed box and the fruit goes rotten faster. But some vegetables react differently to ethylene; with potatoes and onions, it suppresses the sprouting process. Put a banana in a plastic bag with a potato and the banana will be rotten in no time, but the potato won't sprout. Jihyun Ryou's response:
Apples emit a lot of ethylene gas. It has the effect of speeding up the ripening process of fruits and vegetables kept together with apples. When combined with potatoes, apples prevent them from sprouting.
The designer writes about the Verticality of Root Vegetables:
Keeping roots in a vertical position allows the organism to save energy and remain fresh for a longer time. This shelf gives a place for them to stand easily, using sand. At the same time, sand helps to keep the proper humidity.
Kris de Decker elaborates:
Keeping vegetables in slightly damp sand has been a storage method for many centuries. While low temperatures are favourable for vegetables like carrots, high humidity is equally important. Keeping them in wet sand can be a good compromise.... Just don't forget to water them from time to time.
An egg has millions of holes in its shell. It absorbs the odour and substance around itself very easily. This creates a bad taste if it’s kept in the fridge with other food ingredients. This shelf provides a place for eggs outside of the fridge. Also the freshness of eggs can be tested in the water. The fresher they are, the further they sink.
Everyone in North America stores their eggs in the fridge, but few people in Europe do, they can last for days on a shelf or in a pantry. In European supermarkets, the eggs are not refrigerated. Integrating the water into the egg storage shelf is really clever; according to about.com, if an egg:
- Sinks to the bottom and stays there, it is about three to six days old.
- Sinks, but floats at an angle, it's more than a week old.
- Sinks, but then stands on end, it's about two weeks old.
- Floats, it's too old and should be discarded
Eggs act this way in water because of the air sac present in all eggs. As the egg ages, the air sac gets larger because the egg shell is a semi-permeable membrane. The air sac, when large enough, makes the egg float. Eggs are generally good for about three weeks after you buy them.
This is probably the most well known idea of the bunch, adding a bit of rice to spices; it absorbs humidity and keeps them dry. My grandma did this.
The more food you can keep out of the fridge, the smaller it needs to be and the less energy it will consume. The designs described above show a refreshing way to do that, although it should be remembered that these are artworks, not consumer products. Using similar methods when storing food in a basement or a specially designed root cellar - the traditional way - will give better results.
Smaller fridges use less energy, of course, take up less space and make good cities. Furthermore, these techniques are not relics from the past, they are templates for the future. In the hands of a talented designer, they can look beautiful, too.