A Journey Into Our Food System’s Refrigerated-Warehouse Archipelago

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


A Journey Into Our Food System’s Refrigerated-Warehouse Archipelago is the title of an article I just read on theatlantic.com by Alexis Madrigal. Here in the middle of July with temperatures hovering in the high nineties, it was an interesting juxtaposition to read about refrigerated warehouses, but the result was eye-opening.

In her article Ms. Madrigal writes about “a seamless network of artificially chilled processing plants, distribution centers, shipping containers, and retail display cases that creates the permanent global summertime of our supermarket aisles.”

That quote is from Nicola Twilley, whose new installation at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles, “Perishable: An Exploration of the Refrigerated Landscape of America” shows how a relatively unseen world continually hums along, providing a vital link in the frozen food chain.

This exhibition lays bare a system that is so utterly complicated, so gargantuan in its scale that the idea of agriculture and food is nearly forgotten–replaced by equipment, machinery, trucks and trains. Our frozen food comes to us after plenty of twists and turns.

The author writes:

And it’s not just the stuff in the freezer! “At least 70 percent of the food we eat each year passes through or is entirely dependent on the cold chain for its journey from farm to fork, including foods that, on the surface, seem unlikely candidates for refrigeration,” Twilley writes in introducing her show. “Peanuts, for example, are stored between 34 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit in giant refrigerated warehouses across Georgia (which produces nearly half of the country’s peanut harvest).”

Check out these stats from the article. A whopping 80 percent of all potatoes produced in the United States are turned into French fries. Further, the average American consumes 36 pounds of spuds and of that total 29 pounds are frozen French fries.

The article continues:

So, hypothetically, a change in the electricity markets, say, could require new ways of freezing potatoes, which could spark the search for new types of plants, and eventually lead to large-scale genetic differences between the potatoes we used to grow and the potatoes of the future. (Or as we would have written it in the 1950s, “THE POTATOES OF THE FUTURE.”) We didn’t get jetpacks, in part, because we were too busy building and refining the “artificial cryosphere,” as Twilley calls it.

Our frozen food comes to us after plenty of twists and turns.

The positioning of the cryosphere is determined by proximity to interstate highways and railway lines. Places like Allentown, Pennsylvania, Long Beach, California and Darien, Wisconsin where Birds Eye maintains a 55,000 square foot frozen food facility. In Bradenton, Florida, there exists a 29 million cubic feet of refrigerated storage for Tropicana juice–referred to as the “largest juice tank farm in America.”

Ms. Madrigal finishes her very readable article:

All of these places are links in what is known as the “cold chain.” And it’s through their functioning that you get to eat fresh produce all winter and frozen French fries year round. So check out Twilley’s exhibition in Culver City or online. This is your world: you’re the last link in the chain.

Have you ever given any thought to the frozen food infrastructure? Tell us what you think of Ms. Madrigal’s article.

Photo credit: iFood.tv