Refrigeration: A North American concept

This photo was taken with some risk. Store clerks massed around me saying in Italian, French and German that I wasn't allowed to take photos in the store. Good thing I only speak English.

I’ve always been a fan of refrigeration, which is why living in Europe puts me into a perpetual  gag of food-safe horror.

In Spain, refrigeration is looked on as optional, as evidenced by the reek that emanates from the grocer’s meat section.  Room-temperature hogs heads, goat legs, and eggs stacked up in random aisles, these are the things that float to the surface when recalling Spanish-style food-storage.

I expected something different here in Switzerland, what with their awareness of the passing of time, which in the case of uncooled meat corresponds to decay, but I was wrong about that. Mercifully, the Swiss do not hang massive hog-heads to boast their meat supply (I almost posted a photo of a typical Spanish meat department’s hog head display, but decided against it. I am not Stephen King).

They do, however, have the hairy, hoofed goat leg on a spit display, along with a deck of fat hamhocks hanging from the ceiling, giving their meat department the aroma of death… although not as much as the Spanish meat department which we ventured into only with the greatest of speed in order to escape the inevitable projectile-vomiting phenomenon that would follow should we linger.

Store clerks were also unhappy about this photo. I take this as evidence they are ashamed of their unrefrigerated meat practices.

This leaving-meat-out-to-decay could be a matter of economics – refrigeration saps a lot of energy, but more likely it is the backwash of tradition, the sort that in earlier centuries made the weak-stomached look over the ocean toward America and decide a better life and fresher meat waited over there, even if that meant contending with a vigorous population of fanged carnivores, which could lead to becoming meat oneself.

In the meantime, I’m contending with a refrigerator the size of a camping cooler, so I’ve taken to shopping daily for our dinner.

It sounds so quaint to take my little shopping cart, and stroll through cobble-stoned alleys to get our supper, but it’s a real pain. Food-gurus in North America make it sound like this practice ensures the freshest possible supply of food, but it really only applies to bread. The reason Europeans shop daily is because the food-transportation system here ensures that produce will spoil within 24 hours of purchase. I’ve yet to have a pack of strawberries stay overnight in the fridge without waking up to find a few wearing fuzzy white coats, probably because they are unaccustomed to the chill.

In the spirit of fairness, however, it has to be said that so far, Europe’s out-of-season strawberries lack the cardboard texture associated with their North American cousins.

Our Swiss refrigerator - Costco Coleman coolers are larger. The freezer compartment could hold an Oxford dictionary and that is not saying much.

This is, of course, good news for the competing farmers street markets, which are an absolute delight here. I cannot complain about them, although I’ve made several attempts in this direction. I can’t do it. It’s very frustrating.

Nevertheless, this tidbit-shopping-regimen goes against my North American prairie-bred siege-shopping mentality. I was trained to consider my family  to be teetering on the edge of starvation if my house held anything less than a 16-cubic-foot freezer packed to the rim and a basement pantry of shelves sagging under the weight of canned goods. In winter, we added to our food stores by using the barbecue to store frozen turkeys and large roasts. In a pinch, we stowed banks of frozen bread loaves in our car trunks.

No doubt, somewhere a European-living-in-North-America is right now writing a blog about Canadian and American’s ridiculous food-hoarding and refrigeration habits.

A note to that European: We do it because a sudden snowstorm can render us shut-ins for days, floods transform our yards into moats around our homes overnight, and earthquakes can chew up our infrastructure in minutes.

And now I must go eat a bucket of strawberries that haven’t spoiled yet.

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2 thoughts on “Refrigeration: A North American concept

  1. EWWWWW do they have best before dates on things like milk?
    It is enough to make you a vegitarian.
    Enjoy your trip on Saturday.

    • The eggs have three dates on them. For example, our current carton reads: Gelget am-24.04.11/ ungeKuehlt zu verkaufen bis-15.05.11/verbrauchen bis-26.06.11. I have no idea what it means and I am afraid to find out.

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