When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, the loss of electricity throughout the city ruined refrigerators even in neighborhoods barely affected by the storm as maggots infested the rotting food left behind in them by fleeing residents. When evacuees returned, they pushed those refrigerators out to the street in the hope that they would eventually be carried away. Many who returned also wrote long, angry messages about the inadequacy of the government’s response to the disaster on the front of these appliances. American refrigerators are just about the only refrigerators in the world large enough to serve as impromptu billboards. They are also inexpensive enough that citizens of all classes either own or have access to one.
Americans have the biggest refrigerators in the world — 17.5 cubic feet of volume on average. The size of our refrigerators is followed closely by Canadians while the rest of the world lags far behind. Since our refrigerators run day and night, they use more energy than any other household appliance, which means their size has ramifications for the planet’s rate of global warming. However, the enormous popularity of refrigerators in the United States is an indicator of the value of refrigeration both for preserving the food we buy and for the convenience that comes when such huge machines are stocked. The fact that we put perishable food in the refrigerator (even sometimes when it doesn’t belong there) suggests that we still remember refrigeration’s most basic advantage: to prevent food from spoiling before we consume it.
While the usefulness of refrigerators explains their prevalence, it does not explain their size. Most people would agree that fresh food tastes better than anything that's been kept in a refrigerator for even a short amount of time. So why then would anyone want a weeks' worth of perishable food stored in their kitchen at one time? Are Americans slaves to convenience? While our large refrigerators do limit the number of shopping trips we have to take, they also make it possible for us to consume a much greater variety of foods than we ever did without them in our kitchens.