A Crisper Solution

July 5, 2010 BY danariely

I personally find fruit and vegetables to be not only healthy, but also delicious. I enjoy cooking and preparing them, and try to eat them often. Sometimes I wind up spending egregious amounts of money getting the freshest local organic produce. Still, even when I empty my wallet at the farmer’s market, some of my fruit and veggies inevitably end up wilting or rotting in the fridge, leaving a fairly unpleasant sludge. A number of things could contribute to this waste – but I’d like to point out a few simple design flaws that I think we can fix.

1) I suspect that one of the main culprits is the produce drawer in the refrigerator.  Most refrigerators have a special drawer designed to hold produce, usually located at the bottom of the fridge.  The drawer is often just barely opaque and for some reason difficult to open. Because of these “features,” when you open the fridge door, you look straight ahead, to the leftover lasagna or apple pie (and their convenient position) come to mind, leaving the carrots and nectarines hidden and forgotten in the vegetable drawer.  If the design of the produce drawer is one of the barriers for eating the fruit and vegetables we have already purchased, what can we do about it?  For one, instead of using the crisper to store fruit and vegetables, we could put them on a higher shelf so that they are more inviting when that door is opened. We’ll smile and say to ourselves: “oh, right, I now remember I have blueberries and I want to eat some of them.”

2) Another obstacle that keeps us from eating our vegetables before they’ve gone rancid is the sense of immediacy and gnawing hunger that compels us to open the fridge in the first place. We usually go to the fridge when we are already hungry, and are looking for something to pop in our mouths right away. Because there are usually a few steps between raw vegetables and ready to eat food, we shy away from them in favor of something faster and more convenient. One way to solve this would be to wash, cut or cook them in advance so that they are already prepared at the pivotal moment of hunger.

3) In addition, these perishables don’t come with any indication of an expiration date. Until we discover the point-of-no-return, it is hard to tell how far the produce are from the end of their useful lives. We know that when we buy fish, we should eat it within the next couple of days. With milk, there is a date stamped right on the container, undisputable and in plain sight. Because we are averse to losing money (even money already spent), these expiration dates compel us to make sure that we use that pound of Mahi Mahi, eat that yogurt, and finish the milk. By leaving the produce’s expiration date ambiguous, it is hard for us to plan when to eat our produce, and we often discover that we have missed the expiration date after it’s too late. If we were to make our own expiration dates and stick them on our celery sticks, we would be more likely to use them before they’ve turned into a mushy mess.

This type of waste worries me because I think that it also prevents us from future purchases of fruit and vegetables. Imagine this scenario: You buy a bag of grapes for $7.50, throw them in the crisper drawer, and forget about them. A couple weeks later, you open the crisper on a whim and are alarmed to find that the former bag of grapes has now turned into a moldy pile of muck. You feel awful, not only because you have to clean up the mess, but because you paid seven dollars and fifty cents for this. You grumpily go for the sponge and think to yourself, “Well, I’ll never do that again.”

My general point is this: There are all kinds of reasons why we eat badly, but some are more fixable than others if we only look at our behavior and undercover the nuanced forces guiding our actions. Instead of throwing the bag of grapes into the dark drawer in the bottom of the fridge, we can save that drawer for the cupcakes and instead put some grapes in a tray on the top shelf with some mixed greens and pecans, ready to grab and go. The rest of the grapes can be prewashed and stamped with a homemade expiration sticker. If we make plans to eat them within a few days and mark them as such, we are more likely to stick to our goals. This way, we can eat more fruit and veggies and avoid wasting money or creating a mess – benefits all around!

Irrationally yours