Tuesday, February 21, 2012

French Refrigerators

Food shopping in France is a pleasure.  When I go to the weekly outdoor markets or the hypermarches (very large supermarkets that sell not just food, but also clothes, computers, books, dishes, dishwashers, washing machines, and refrigerators), I admire the variety of garden-fresh produce, raw-milk and pasteurized cheeses, assorted breads made from different types of flour, fresh pasta, chocolate cakes and fruit tartes, and myriad yogurts with flavors that don't exist in the United States (chestnut, mirabelle plum, or hazelnut, for example).  But the problem is, I can buy very few foods that need refrigeration.  That's because French refrigerators are the runts of household appliances.

French refrigerators and freezers, covered with the same veneer as the rest of the cabinets, blend into the kitchen décor – unlike conspicuous American refrigerators, which announce the newest trend, such as brushed stainless steel, as if the exterior of the item indicates how well it keeps food cold.   French refrigerators, though, are too small for me.  I’m used to obese American ones with shelves stuffed, drawers gorged with produce, and doors overfilled with drinks and condiments.  In the United States I don’t have to think about how much food I’m buying.  In France, I wonder whether the refrigerator could accommodate the cucumber.

The veneer matches the cabinets

18.25" wide, 11.75" deep, 38" high
(including the 2 produce drawers)
The refrigerator is 4.72 cubic feet.
Our American refrigerator is 26 cubic feet.

Other countries have Liliputian refrigerators, but why does France, the country famous for its food, wine, chefs, and Michelin stars?  How do people plan for dinner parties if there is no room in the refrigerator to prepare a dish the day before? (meaning, could the French ever celebrate a holiday like Thanksgiving?)  Isn’t there wastage with discarding perfectly good leftovers ? (I know a woman who makes soup every day for dinner, and what’s not eaten goes down the drain.) How many times a week do French people shop for food?  Do they think of their refrigerator space when they’re grocery shopping?  Or do they have, as many if my French friends do, an extra refrigerator in the garage?

French freezers, unlike their American counterparts, are well-designed, although stunted.  Open the door, and you see closed drawers, each one of which can be organized to hold a certain type of food (frozen vegetables in one drawer, desserts in another, and so on).  In the American freezer, you see foods packed and crammed into a large space, and finding what you want is an endeavor in arctic archeology.  

The freezer
A freezer drawer

A few days ago I bought a bag of 7 small organic oranges from Spain, 2 fennel bulbs, one lettuce, 3 turnips, 2 sweet potatoes from the U.S., one leek, 3 Granny Smith apples, and a small box of mushrooms.  I was able to fit everything in the refrigerator, after chopping off most of the green part of the leek.  Then I realized that I could have bought that yogurt.  There was space on the top shelf.  And that’s one thing that keeps commerce going here: returning to the grocery store to buy what we wanted to get in the first place, but didn’t know if the refrigerator had room. 

After grocery shopping
Packed produce drawers
Each drawer is 8.5" wide, 11.5" long, and 6" high

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