You are what you eat: what the inside of your fridge says about your household

August 4 2011 |
lives-on-432-fixed-monthly-income
Street Advertiser | 1-Person Household | Lives on $432 fixed monthly income. Photo courtesy markmenjivar.com
Does anything in one's home tell as clear a story about its inhabitants as the refrigerator? I hadn't really thought about it before, until I saw You Are What You Eat, a series of photos by artist Mark Menjivar, who profiled 35 refrigerators and the people who own them.

For three years I traveled around the country exploring food issues. The more time I spent speaking and listening to individual stories, the more I began to think about the foods we consume and the effects they have on us as individuals and communities.

An intense curiosity and questions about stewardship led me to begin to make these unconventional portraits. A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. One person likened the question, "May I photograph the interior of your fridge?" to asking someone to pose nude for the camera.

Each fridge is photographed "as is." Nothing added, nothing taken away. […]

My hope is that we will think deeply about how we care.

How we care for our bodies. How we care for others. And how we care for the land.

These few portraits made clear the differences between my life and all the "characters'" lives so quickly. The guy from the above photo, the street advertiser, doesn't pause midway through a tough day at work to fantasize about a comfort food he'll dip into when he gets home. He can't afford anything but mayo (I think?) and something wrapped in a black trash bag in his refrigerator. I'm sure it's not moldy in there at all.

College Students | 3-Person Household

Oh, that takes me back. Being college students and only having liquids and condiments on hand. And clearly, keeping a good inventory: I see two bottles of soysauce in the door, both opened.

try-to-only-eat-foods-found-within-100-miles-of-home
2-Person Household | Try to only eat foods found within 100 miles of home.

These people seem to be doing well with their goal. This collection makes me think they're people who really enjoy eating — look at those jars! Bright, tangy vegetables! I see maybe a black bean dish on the top shelf. Hummus in the middle? And what's in the stew pot? Maybe there's cake under that tin foil.

bartender
Bartender | Goes to sleep at 8AM and wakes up at 4PM daily.

That looks about right. Food service workers have the shittiest schedules, and ready access to so much crap food. At least this person isn't going hungry.

first-week-after-deciding-to-eat-all-local-produce
2 Person Household | First week after deciding to eat all local produce.

If I may offer a helpful tip? You bought way too much produce. You two will never get through most of that, unless you eat raw — and therefore many, many vegetables. But six cucumbers? We eat a lot of vegetables in this house and we're lucky to finish two cucumbers before they turn.

But don't let your anxiety over feeling like you're not buying enough food ruin this. You'll get better at figuring out how much stuff you need.

Carpenter/Photographer | San Antonio, TX | 3-Person Household - 12 point buck shot on family property.

Awesome.

6-person-household
Six person household | Parents and three adult children live in an efficiency apartment

That's not a lot of food for six people, and six people in an efficiency sounds like a hard way to live.


If you're digging Mark's work, there are a couple dozen more photos in his portfolio. You can also buy prints at 20×200.

And now? Put your fine art photographer hat on: take a portrait of your icebox, upload it to the Offbeat Home Flickr group, and post a link in the comments. I kicked it off. Let's see what kinds of stories our refrigerators tell.

  1. Made me think about my fridge… we certainly eat out a lot, and I think it shows, as our fridge is a lot like the college kids minus the beer plus some produce lol!

  2. Ha. the picture of the bartenders refrigerator brings me back. My husband is a bartender. After 3 years of marriage I still have to clean out all his bad take out food from our fridge to make room for our CSA.

  3. I shared this on Google Reader and a friend pointed out that you can tell many of these are from Central Texas because of all the HEB store brand stuff. (Or Central Market, in the case of photo #1.)

    Also, that photo of the deer meat made me feel all nostalgic; that's practically a shot of my childhood freezer (except swap whiskey for tequila).

  4. I love this. Going to take a photo as soon as I get home. Now I wish I had fridge photos of all the various stages in my life!

  5. You know, i really need to clean out my refrigerator… Mine is a combination of all of these. A lot of condiments and beer, a lot of produce and some leftovers. Also, we keep our bread in the fridge, which is probably weird. But then, i think it's weird to put soy sauce and onions in there. πŸ™‚

    • Looking through all 35 of Menjivar's photos, I found myself very surprised at what other people keep in their fridge — like onions.

      • Funny, it ever occured to me to keep onions anywhere else (same as potatoes). I have a tiny apartment and the fridge is the best space, they also keep for ages.

        • Same here. We used to keep onions in a cupboard in our old place but where we are now we only have 4 cupboards so the fridge is the only place with enough space.

          Plus we usually only use 1/2 an onion at a time and my husband insists on keeping them all together. I'd rather have whole onions in the fridge for no real reason than 1/2 onions going shrivelled and off in the cupboard.

  6. Wow. This makes me feel really awesome about my fridge.

    If you go to his website, my fridge would be like a cross between #21 (journalist), #24 (executive assistant), and #9 (college students). A nice balance of lots of produce (veggies and fruit), skim milk and juice, fresh meat, eggs, cheese and butter, a shelf dedicated to booze, and a crap-ton of sauces and condiments (mostly Asian). But since we're only a two person household, it's rarely full (usually if we have leftovers or we're having friends over it's full).

  7. I think about this all the time when I open our fridge: What would some random visitor assume about us if they opened our fridge right now. Most of the time I'm proud of the contents, which are scant but good quality and good nutrition. Sometimes I'm a little embarrassed, like when I was using the fridge as a hiding spot for the a gallon bag of cheap candy my son brought home from a birthday pinata.

    Of course, the funny thing about those items in your fridge that least correlate to how you actually eat is that they will often stay in the fridge the longest because you don't eat them. So that stupid bag of candy is still there, although I've moved it to the freezer, right behind the skirt I am freezing to try to remove tree sap from… that's less weird, right?

    • Good point about the food you like least staying the longest in your fridge!

      For us, it would depend on the time of the week too, since we do grocery shopping once a week. Just after that, the fridge is full, but just before, it's almost empty!

  8. This is pretty awesome. My fridge is totally deceptive though… It's full of cheese, bacon, bread, etc… You know, actual FOOD, and I've not eaten anything that didn't have "just add hot water!" on the packet for about three weeks.

  9. That photo of the fridge with all local produce reminded me of our fridge when we decided to juice fruits and veggies for a week. We went through so much!!

    • I actually know someone with a snake in their freezer right at this moment, a boa constrictor I believe. It was a pet who died and they want to bury it somewhere, but didn't have time to do it soon, so they put it in the freezer. They didn't tell me though and I went in it to get some ice….I didn't scream, but I froze…and just stared at it.

      • OMG, my ex used to keep the severed head of his dead iguana in his freezer. Right next to the frozen rats for his python. Imagine my horror the first time i went to cook a meal for him and I was met with that! Now I can laugh at it, but I'm still pretty sure he was a psychopath.

  10. http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiskeyjac/6009952880/in/pool-1550384@N25/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiskeyjac/6009951932/in/pool-1550384@N25/

    I'm not proficient on Flicker! Hope I did this properly. I thought it was an interesting project, and there's my bit. πŸ™‚
    3 person family – my husband is a big guy, works lots, eats home made lunches that I pack for him. I'm 8 months pregnant and eating like a lumberjack, and we have a preschooler on the premises as well. Notice the chocolate bars pushed WAY out of her reach πŸ™‚

  11. Oh, hellll, no. Groom and I are having a fridge standoff right now. I've never been more embarrassed of the contents of my fridge in my life. And sometimes I refrigerate vienna sausages. (Don't knock it, they remind me of my grandma, who always served them cold.)

    • Will your groom be properly shamed if you start posting photos to Facebook?
      I'm the queen of petty wars.
      If you'll pardon my unsolicited and unwanted relationship advice…
      The way, I find, to actually win this war: clean it out yourself. You'll feel better, I promise. Your fridge isn't just growing mold–it's growing resentment. Work on future organization. Or institute a "if you don't clean it out after three days, I'm throwing it away" policy.
      But you know your relationship and what works for you and yadda yadda. Just leaving this advice here for anyone who may want to snatch it up. πŸ˜‰

  12. In the first fridge, it looks like it's organic wasabi mayonnaise (not that the fixed monthly income is enough to live on, but not exactly an item that makes you think "he can only afford… organic wasabi mayonnaise.")

    The black bag is not a trash bag – just a black plastic bag from a store. Some corner stores use black ones.

    • In japan they wrap your tampons in black plastic shopping bags to take home. Telling the cashier you don't want a bag, whoa, freakout! πŸ˜‰

  13. Wow, we keep a lot of food in the house. Comparatively speaking.

    Right now (although I'm moving tomorrow), it's a three person household, two college students & a from-home editor. And our fridge is usually packed. As are the cupboards. Having actual, accessible food in the house at all times is really high on the boy's and my priority list, because there was a time in both our childhoods where there…wasn't.

    • Seeing these photos, I'm always curious what their cabinets and pantries contain, as well. There's NOTHING in some of these fridges, but you know that they are eating SOMETHING.

      • I don't know. My 3rd year at university my housemates and I concluded that one guy had learned to photosynthasise. All he ever had in the kitchen was cereal, orange juice and ketchup, all of which could go for days without being opened, but he insisted he didn't eat out either and he spent most of his time in his room. (We checked, he didn't have food in there either.)

  14. As much as I'd like to post a picture of our family's fridge, no one would be able to tell what was in it. Why? Because all our left-overs and many of our cut vegetables are kept in Parkay and cottage cheese containers!

  15. "Six person household | Parents and three adult children live in an efficiency apartment"

    That's five; who's the sixth?

  16. Well, I would post a photo of my fridge, but it was only delivered today so we haven't had a chance to fill it!

  17. http://www.flickr.com/photos/roxanapeace/6012263569/in/photostream

    3 person household, one mostly uses different fridge. Husband and I are ovo-lacto pescetarians. The freezer is not normally this full but the Costco frozen waffles aren't going away very fast. Behind waffles: booze. Bottom of fridge door: more alcohol. We try to buy organic milk and produce. Eggs from my aunt's chickens.

    I hesitated to upload this actually, even though I like how my fridge is looking right now! The freezer is what makes me cringe. Also, the topmost refrigerator light burnt out a few moons ago and I haven't gotten around to replacing it. I can still see in there well enough so I let it go.

    Also, re: the snake… um, in my childhood home, there were frequently bats, owls, snakes and other creatures in our freezer. My mom was an interpretive ranger for the NPS and if *ahem* fresh roadkill (not done by her) was in really good condition, she thought she could donate the bodies to the visitor's centers or something. I don't think it turned out that way, but her intentions were good I suppose! πŸ™‚

  18. I love this!

    It really makes me wonder what others would think if they opened my fridge. I live with my boyfriend, who's in grad school while I'm in undergrad. So, we're scraping by with very little money. He's also the least healthy eater I've ever seen. He stuffs the fridge with kool-aid, bacon and left over pizza while I add random items that I can eat with food allergies and lots of add ins to spice up things like plain rice. We also have two of many items, one labeled "gluten-fied" and the other labeled with something like "add gluten and you will die."

    I love the fridge full of deer. Reminds my of my parents'.

  19. This is fascinating! Our own fridge often elicits gasps of, "But it's practically empty," from my partner's mother whenever she visits. He's from a big Italian family where cooking's an event, so her fridge is always bursting. Being just a two person household, and one that cooks full meals more often than snacks, we usually only have milk, condiments, a few fruits and veggies, cold drinks and sandwich fixings in our fridge. The freezer is whatever "main" course I've purchased for us for the week. Our larder–now that's more full, since we tend to keep a lot of canned veggies, cereal, rice, and pasta. It's not that we don't have a lot of food, we just don't have a lot of *perishable* food. And what is perishable tends to get eaten pretty quickly.

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