The Elementary Forms of Refrigerator Life

When Ann and I started BigLittleMeals almost four years ago we decided to include a section called Stocking Up. In it you will find photos of the basic foods and condiments that we generally keep on hand in our pantry and refrigerator. The images below are in the part labeled “What’s in Our Fridge.”

So, you can imagine how excited I was when I came across a recent NY Times article entitled Quiz: Can You Tell a ‘Trump’ Fridge From a ‘Biden’ Fridge? What could be more perfect for Andy’s Corner?

It’s perfect for two reasons. First, it addresses the question of how we socially label others based on what they consume, providing me an opportunity to pontificate on the sociological meaning of things in our lives (and refrigerators). And second, because food is involved, the topic is de facto legit for BigLittleMeals, shielding me from potential slings and arrows from the senior editor of this blog who has publicly stated that I go on way too long about things sociological.

In my previous post I wrote about my ongoing struggle to come up with clever, yet appropriate, titles for my posts – at least clever and appropriate in my opinion. After much thought, and a suggestion by our son Travis, I decided on The Elementary Forms of Refrigerator Life, which is a variation of one of the most influential titles in the world of sociology – Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (emphasis mine).  Get it? I substituted “Refrigerator” for “Religious.” If that’s not a clever title I don’t know what is!

Emile would probably be less than amused if he saw my title. Anyway, he couldn’t have used “Refrigerator” in his title even if he wanted to because refrigerators weren’t invented until 1913, a year after his book was published.

Although I’d like to take credit for this title, the truth is that I lifted it from a research project that Jonathan Marx of Winthrop University assigned students to help them understand and apply some of Durkheim’s key concepts.  The students were asked to analyze the materials found on their family refrigerator door – such as photos, kid’s drawings, sayings, etc.  It is the kind of assignment I wish I’d thought of for my own students.

A door begging to be analyzed. Imagine what’s inside that fridge!

Like Marx’s refrigerator door project, the NY Times quiz is something I certainly would use if I were still teaching. Here’s how the authors explain their project (keep in mind that this was done prior to the presidential election):

We wondered if it was possible to identify Trump and Biden voters based on what’s inside their refrigerators, on the theory it might say something about our similarities and our assumptions about one another. So we teamed up with Lucid, an online survey platform, to ask a representative sample of U.S. residents whom they’re planning to vote for — and whether they’d open their refrigerators and take a picture of the contents. Hundreds did.

The fun part is that readers are invited to try the quiz, which is an interactive type of online game using the hundreds of photos submitted by those in the survey. Simply guess (click on) the presidential preference of the owner of the image of the open refrigerator (pictured below). As soon as you click another photo appears for your guess. You are scored by the percentage of your correct guesses. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying my hand. It would be a piece of cake – so I thought.

This is a screen shot of the quiz on the web site. Go here to get to the quiz.

Turns out that not only did I fail to find even one piece of cake in the 91 fridge images that popped up, I was pretty lousy at guessing the political identity of the owners of these refrigerators. Here are my results as reported on the web site:

You guessed 91 times and got 51 correct, for a score of 56 percent.

So far, Times readers have made 25,785,797 guesses, correctly matching refrigerators to a family’s favored candidate 52 percent of the time. (We excluded images from nonvoters, undecided voters and households with voters split on their choice for president.)

I suppose I should take some solace in the fact that I scored slightly higher than the 52-percent average of the Times readers. But the hard cold truth (pun intended) is that, as the authors of the article conclude, scores like mine suggest that “as a whole, we can’t distinguish people’s politics from glances into their fridges much more reliably than if we just flipped a coin.

If you think you can do any better, go ahead and take the quiz. I’d be interested in how well you do. (Note: I’m pretty sure that to take the quiz you do not need a subscription to the on-line version of the NY Times, but if so let me know).

I can’t think of better song lyrics to end this post than from You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover recorded in 1962 by Bo Diddley.

The lyrics to the first stanza are especially appropriate.

You can’t judge an apple by looking at a tree
You can’t judge honey by looking at the bee
You can’t judge a daughter by looking at the mother
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover

[Editor’s note: the next two lines are mine]
You can’t judge a troll by looking at the bridge
You can’t judge a person by looking in the fridge

Enjoy Bo Diddley’s performance as you head to your fridge to get a politically correct snack while you cogitate on the futility of judging others by what’s in their fridge.

Bo Diddley singing You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover (recorded in 1962)
Play the song here.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’m pleased that I made your day. I was serious when I wrote that I wish I had thought of something that clever when I was teaching. And, I must add, your comment made MY day! Best wishes.


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