Illustrated by Josh Cleland

“Mayor Mayonnaise knew he had a mess on his hands”

Fridge-opolis starts with a description of “a polluted city” which is a refrigerator crowded with spoiling food. It depicts anthropomorphized food products as citizens, sections of the fridge as neighborhoods, and conflicts emerging from overcrowding and waste as social tensions. “In the Midtown deli drawer, the meats and cheese were spoiling … But more food kept moving into Fridge-opolis!” Upon realizing the crisis, Mayor Mayonnaise declares emergency and calls on Dr. Baking Soda for help. Every “borough and street” of Fridge-opolis is inspected, expired food is composted, and the citizens rejoice. “All the stinkiness finally did cease.” The story is told in rhyming couplets that play on food personalities: “sushi felt mushy,” “the overripe pineapple prickled” or “the apples quit being so crabby.” Josh Cleland’s vibrant illustrations amplify the effect. They depict what a slippery slope food waste can be and transport the readers into a refrigerator in a way they may have never thought of it before. The story ends on a hopeful note. “Now, past the Recycling Ridge and Compost Town, lies the famous, sparkling city of Fridge-opolis … where everyone’s happy as pie.” The last opening, appropriately called “Food for Thought,” offers helpful tips on how to be more intentional about reducing food waste and why it matters. 

Fridge-opolis is a visually engaging book for younger audiences that offers ridiculously funny entry points into discussions about food waste, recycling, composting, and thoughtless, everyday consumerism, whose one icon is an overstuffed refrigerator. Coffey’s message that keeping the fridge clean makes the food happier helps young audiences make a connection between reducing food waste and taking climate action. As she explains at the end of the book, avoiding yucky, cluttered fridges like the one in Fridge-opolis is a meaningful step toward reducing one’s household’s greenhouse gas emissions. Spoiled food in the fridge—an experience many readers will know—may seem like no big deal. However, Coffey’s book can help students grasp just how impactful this can be on the Earth’s climate, especially that food waste is a top contributor to landfills and methane emissions. Presenting Fridge-opolis as a place initially “infamously polluted” but then transformed into a “sparkling city … where everyone was happy as a pie” can lead to conversations about pollution, collective action, and regeneration, especially the habits of reducing (unnecessary food purchases), recycling (food packaging), and composting (unused or spoiled food). The book can also be used for building a sense of Earth stewardship and kinship with the nonhuman (see Earth Care, Kinship Care, Indigenous Worldview): representations of food characters as disgruntled, sad, relieved or happy work to provide empathy for the nonhuman that may lead to reflection on how our daily habits impact the larger world. Of course, most households do not have a sentient jar of mayonnaise and baking soda so it is important to emphasize the human responsibility for responding to food waste.

When using this book, a teacher might scaffold students’ understanding of food waste by leaning into the apparent emotions of the food characters, allowing inquiry into why they might feel sad or frustrated. Older children—who may be able to identify the responsibility of people in allowing Fridge-opolis to get so crowded, as well as the wasteful nature of allowing so much food to go bad—may be invited to discuss food packaging, food systems, food deserts and how it is more than the food itself that contributes to waste, landfills and pollution. By scaffolding these concepts throughout the reading, students would be more primed to understand the statistics on the final two pages which list problems, data, solutions, sources and impacts of choosing to reduce food waste. By using this book for climate literacy pedagogy, an inconvenience that feels extremely individual is recontextualized as a larger issue that starts in one’s refrigerator but carries lasting effects beyond that.

©2024 ClimateLit (Jalen Giles)


Sources Provided by Author:

Teaching Guide:

Book Trailer:

Publisher: Little Bee Books, 2022

Pages: 32

ISBN: 978-1-4998-1254-1

Audience: Little People (4-7), Sprouts (0-3)

Format: Picturebooks

Topics: Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Literacy, Collective Action, Composting, Consumerism, Earth Care, Earth Stewardship, Food, Food Deserts, Food Packaging, Food Waste, Greenhouse Gases, Interspecies Kinship, Kinship Care, Landfills, Methane, Pollution, Recycling, Regeneration, Trash, Waste Management, Waste Reduction