There are more than a million discussion forums on Reddit, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for in any of those—well, there’s a forum for that, too. Two weeks ago, a user named WeHaveAllBeenThere went to the “Find a Reddit” group in search of a place “where you post a picture of the inside of your refrigerator and people guess how old you are or what your job is.” Within an hour, someone had created a subreddit called Fridge Detective, and in the thirteen days since twelve thousand more sleuths have signed on to examine, in minute detail, the interiors of each other’s refrigerators. Like a party guest poking around in the host’s medicine cabinet, or a magazine throwing back the doors on a celebrity shoe closet, the icebox snoops hunt for clues in patterns of consumption. Crisper drawers bursting with a rainbow of produce? Neatly marshalled rows of bottled water? A half-eaten yogurt, a packet of cheese, fifteen types of mustard, and a single bottle of beer? In these oddly intimate snapshots of place, class, and culture, everything—even nothing—says something.
The insides of refrigerators have long been the subjects of voyeuristic fascination. Icebox exposés of the cultured and the beautiful are a go-to feature in food publications like Edible Brooklyn and Munchies, and appear regularly on the fashion Web site Man Repeller. The 2015 book “Inside Chefs’ Fridges, Europe” paired the elegantly appointed appliances of restaurant luminaries like Yotam Ottolenghi and Fatéma Hal with recipes that make use of their contents. And the fine-art photographer Mark Menjivar has a series capturing fridge contents in a way that brings out their dispassionate beauty. He titles each image with just enough information to trace the outlines of the fridge owner’s story: “Bar Tender | San Antonio, TX | 1-Person Household | Goes to sleep at 8AM and wakes up at 4PM daily” shows shelves jammed full of white styrofoam takeout containers; “Short Order Cook | Marathon, TX | 2-Person Household | She can bench press over 300lbs” shows a freezer containing ice, a few months’ worth of tortillas, and what appears to be a (deceased) rattlesnake.
The Fridge Detective forum goes the other way: instead of presenting the fridge as a way to deepen our understanding of a person, it is a solitary stand-in for the whole. Many guesses miss the mark (Reddit users, who skew young and male, tend to assume that all fridge owners are like them), but a good number are uncannily spot-on: users have zoomed in on the label on a bucket of pickles to place a restaurant walk-in in central Florida, spotted a teething ring and a stack of empty egg cartons to prove someone had both a newborn and access to back-yard chickens, and deduced that their patron saint, WeHaveAllBeenThere, is an avid player of video games based on the jumble of ice-cream boxes in his freezer.
Buoyed by the collaborative spirit of this guessing game, I recently uploaded a snapshot of my apartment’s creaky side-by-side, with the fridge door hanging open. Within hours, users had profiled me with amazing accuracy: married and living in New York City; has a dog but no kids; finicky about food safety (always keep your meat on the bottom shelf!); lactose intolerant; travelled recently to Japan. Maybe the person my fridge reveals me to be is even better than reality: “You indulge in little ways,” one sleuth wrote, eyeing my tub of mascarpone and several packages of bacon. “I bet your hair and nails look fabulous.”