A One-Time Poultry Farmer Invents the Future of Refrigeration


A yr later, Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second-largest grocery chain, borrowed a Dearman unit for a three-month trial, shuttling items from its depot in Essex to London-area supermarkets. A yr after that, a Dearman-cooled truck spent six months delivering pints of Ben & Jerry’s throughout the Netherlands for Unilever, with out dropping a single load.

There have been 3 million refrigerated vans on the highway worldwide, and the fleet was anticipated to develop to 17 million by 2025. Peter Dearman’s invention appeared like a shoo-in alternative for diesel. Earlier than too lengthy, even the Royal Society, Britain’s most esteemed scientific physique, was inviting him to pop spherical for dinner.

To the trendy eater, it may be tough to know simply how a lot, and the way rapidly, mechanical cooling has remodeled each the human eating regimen and the worldwide local weather. The know-how made its business debut solely after the Civil Struggle; its earliest adopters had been German-born brewers within the Midwest, seeking to maintain their lager caves chilled within the steamy summer time months. But it surely wasn’t lengthy earlier than different industries realized that refrigeration could possibly be used to handle one in every of humankind’s oldest anxieties: meals spoilage.

For millennia, folks and microbes have been engaged in a type of interspecies warfare. Micro organism and fungi try and colonize our meals, and we, in response, try and delay their advance utilizing an arsenal of preservation strategies. In what was doubtless a protracted and sluggish course of, pursued via trial and error, completely different communities developed completely different strategies for stopping the rot. Some proved fairly scrumptious—smelly cheese, smoked salmon, salami, miso, marmalade, membrillo. Even the gelatinous pleasures of Scandinavian lutefisk or Chinese language century eggs have their devotees.

Most of those preserved meals are extremely long-lasting, in addition to moveable. What they aren’t, nonetheless, is identical as recent: The chemical and bodily transformations required to conquer microbes inevitably additionally alter the meals’s authentic taste, texture, and look. The introduction of widespread, on-demand refrigeration modified all of that, overturning hundreds of years of dietary historical past.

The earliest cellular mechanical cooling models had been patented in 1939 by Frederick McKinley Jones, the primary African American to obtain the Nationwide Medal of Know-how. Like Dearman, he was a highschool dropout and self-taught engineer. Previous to his invention, perishable meals akin to meat, dairy, and produce needed to be entombed beneath a thick layer of hand-shoveled ice for transportation. Within the early a long time of the twentieth century, a railcar filled with California-grown cantaloupes destined for New York Metropolis could be packed in 10,500 kilos of ice—and re-iced with one other 7,500 kilos a number of occasions throughout its multiday journey. Even then, shipments skilled appreciable shrink. Certainly, the impetus behind Jones’ invention was the loss, by his boss’ {golfing} buddy, of a complete cargo load of uncooked hen. It needed to be tossed when the truck carrying it broke down and the ice defending it melted.

Throughout World Struggle II, the Protection Division rapidly seized on Jones’ diesel-powered units, offered below the model title Thermo King, to provide troops with every thing from blood plasma to frosty Coke. Within the years afterward, refrigerated vans remodeled the American foodscape. Regional distribution networks gave technique to nationwide ones. Slaughterhouses and processing services grew more and more huge and extra distant, driving down the price of meat and making it an on a regular basis staple. Agriculture turned concentrated in these locations the place a specific crop could possibly be cultivated most cost-effectively, with the consequence that California now grows half of the vegatables and fruits eaten in the USA.

Right now, actually, greater than three-quarters of every thing on the typical American plate is processed, packaged, shipped, saved, and offered below refrigeration. It’s the cause orange juice, stockpiled in large tank farms, tastes the identical year-round, like soda. It’s the cause many tomatoes, genetically tuned to maximise chilly tolerance relatively than taste, style like nothing in any respect. Refrigeration has made us taller and heavier; it has modified the composition of our intestine microbes; it has reshaped our kitchens, ports, and cities; it has reconfigured international economics and politics. In 2012, six years earlier than the Royal Society feted Dearman and his engine, the academy’s distinguished members declared refrigeration an important invention within the historical past of foods and drinks—extra vital than the knife, the oven, the plow, and even the millennia of selective breeding that gave us the livestock, fruits, and greens we acknowledge as we speak.

However because the chilly chain has expanded, distributing synthetic perpetual winter internationally, it has wreaked havoc on the pure cryosphere, the glaciers and icebergs and frozen swaths of tundra that assist maintain Earth’s local weather system in verify. Refrigeration already accounts for a few sixth of humanity’s electrical energy utilization, and the demand is barely anticipated to develop as international locations akin to China and India busily construct US-style techniques of their very own. Within the subsequent seven years, analysts predict, the worldwide refrigeration market will quadruple in dimension.

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