A Journey Into Our Food System’s Refrigerated-Warehouse Archipelago

“70 percent of the food we eat passes through the “cold chain” of chilled transportation and storage.”

oreidaAlexis Madrigal explores the geography of the distributed network of cold warehouses that makes modern eating habits in America possible — think: the ability to eat fresh produce all winter and frozen french fries year round.

These systems, by design and necessity, exist away from the cities, and even when they’re within cities, away from where the people are. You don’t see them unless you work there, and if you work there, you generally don’t get to tell the stories of the landscape in the popular press.

To venture into infrastructural space is not just to leave the Beltway or the New York media world behind, but to come to know entirely different networks. The nodes on the map are different: Oakland and Richmond, not San Francisco; Long Beach and Hueneme, not LA; Newark and Wilmington, not New York.

In these geographies, the physical reasons people have long chosen certain locations retain their purchase: proximity to resources and markets, water access, transportation access, grid access. Take Allentown, Pennsylvania. It features a logistics hub “where U.S. Foods, Americold, Millard Refrigerated Services, Kraft, Ocean Spray, and others all maintain facilities,” thanks to its “location at the intersection of I-78, I-476, and several East Coast railway lines. It is also close to major urban markets in the north-east corridor–but not so close that the land is expensive.”

My point here is that this is another America. And it’s neither the pastoral, wholesome family farm of Iowa political campaigns and Wendell Berry poems nor the dense Creative Class preserves where the nation’s bloggers and TV producers live. Almost no one tells the stories of these places.

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