Tiny Tuesday: The Little Free Refrigerator?

The sharing economy helps everybody live with less. We’ve seen it work for living spaces and for certain possessions, namely books. How about food?

The Community Fridge is an experiment in which a mini-fridge is placed in a public location with these instructions: “Take what you need. Leave what you don’t.” UC Davis grad student Ernst Bertone theorizes that a lot of people have a lot of uneaten food lying around, and we can reduce waste by giving that extra food to others. As this takepart article explains, neighbors are free to place their surplus items in Mr. Bertone’s public mini-fridge (placed by a sidewalk, protected by its own little roof), and free to take anything they find there (mostly nonperishables). Bertone posts new items to a community webpage, giving all a chance to scoop up the ingredients they need most.

The fridge. (picture courtesy of takepart)

The fridge. (picture courtesy of takepart)

Food sharing is gaining traction in countries like Germany and Spain, but community fridges in the US face lots of red tape. I can see why. Rules governing what foods can go in the fridge are hard to enforce, and one rotten egg spoils the lot. There are questions of health and food safety, not to mention responsibility: who pays for electricity? Who keeps it clean? Anybody who’s ever experienced an office refrigerator knows how easy it is to abuse a shared food-storage system, intentionally or otherwise. These unsavory possibilities leave a bad taste in my mouth.

But I love how the project raises awareness of the national epidemic of food waste. And I see many parallels to tiny houses, which by their growing popularity have informed a wider public about the costs of living in excess. (How fitting that Bertone skirted health officials by putting his fridge on wheels… the same tactic homeowners may use to avoid minimum-square-footage zoning laws.) Ideas can move rapidly from extreme to mainstream, and you don’t have to participate to learn something.

Thanks to Caitlin Chapman.

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