Refrigeration, The Pacific Body, and Other Perishables

Craig Santos Perez
May 4, 2013
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Today, as I faced my refrigerator, I remember that distant afternoon when my father took me to discover ice. A super typhoon is about to hit Guam so the electricity is shut down. Dad drives us to the grocery store, and we wait in line to buy bags of ice. Steam rises from the mouth of the large ice bin. Bags of ice like bars of blue gold.

We take the ice home and fill the coolers. Mom moves the perishable foods from the refrigerator to the ice. My siblings and I help by eating the ice cream. After the typhoon, the refrigerator comes back to life and I press my ear against its body to listen to its breathing, its magic.

The fridge from my childhood housed Best Foods mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, French’s mustard, Vlasic pickles, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, Oscar Meyer bologna, Wonder Bread, Kraft Cheese, Coca-Cola, Sunny Delight, and Caprisun. It was a stimulating assemblage of bright, cool, and modern. Opening its door opened a door to America. Reaching into the fridge was like reaching for the invisible hand that fed us.

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On really hot days, I stand on a chair, open the freezer door, and let the conditioned air cool my shirtless body. Frozen ground beef, frozen hot dogs, frozen turkey tails. The Jolly Green Giant.

The fridge held the staples of our Americanized diets. The fridge was the stapler: every time it clicked open, our bodies were bound to the “mainland.” It was a place where nothing seemed perishable, where food could be frozen forever.

The first ice plant on Guam was founded by Pedro Pangelinan Martinez in 1921. Pedro’s Ice Plant supplied the hospital, the US Naval government, the US military, schools, and hundreds of residents who had ice boxes. He became one of the wealthiest men on island, opening a car dealership, grocery store, import and wholesale company, cattle farms, and a construction company (which built Guam’s first hotel, the Pan American).

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Don Pedro became the director of the Bank of Guam, president of Guam Chamber of Commerce, and the chairman of the Food Defense Council. Active in the church, Pedro was even appointed “Knight Commander with Emblem of the Order of Pope St. Sylvester” by Pope John XXIII. In the name of the Colonial Father, the Native Son, and the Holy Ice Cube.

During World War II, Japan’s occupying military seized Pedro’s Ice Plant. Refrigeration is power.

All refrigerators in my life have been echoes of my childhood fridge. Same condiments, sugary drinks, processed meats and cheese, and slices of gluten. My diet and shopping habits were frozen in time. A vicious refrigeration cycle.

And then I started to forget. How long has this slice of cheese been here? Where did this Tupperware of leftovers come from? What are these ingredients? Will this make me sick? What was hiding in the back of the bottom shelf? What is real food?

My fridge became a place of shame, embarrassment, secrecy, and helplessness. I didn’t want guests to look in my fridge to see my rotting insides. I wanted solitude. I wanted to hide in the cold darkness that comes when you close the fridge door.

Life expectancies are melting across the Pacific due to chronic diseases linked to poor diets. Some stores in Oceania only sell frozen, processed, canned, and packaged imported foods. In places where fresh local foods are available, many just can’t afford them. Refrigerators across the Pacific are sites of American invasiveness and disease.

As I’ve struggled to change my eating habits over the past two years, I’ve noticed how my fridge has changed. It started with a cleanse of my fridge to get rid of all the unhealthy foods. This gave me space to change. If we are what we eat, is an image of what we eat an image of who we are? I have no “before” picture, but here is what my fridge looks like now:

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Refrigerators were invented to extend the life of perishable foods; ironically, refrigerators are preserving the very unhealthy foods that are shortening our life spans. Our Pacific bodies are perishable. The food we eat, refrigerate, and freeze should extend and brighten our lives. Listen to our Pacific bodies, to our breathing, to our own magic.

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