When I came to this country in the early 1980s I was surprised to find that people stored their bread in the refrigerator, and that people's refrigerators were huge compared to the ones I was used to from Europe.
Oddly enough, despite our technical ability and being able to afford to refrigerate so much more than formerly we still waste lots of food. But food waste and spoilage nowadays happen at the end of our food's journey, right in our own backyard, aka refrigerator.
In a recent NY Times article Dartmouth professor Susan Freidberg wrote that surprisingly all that expensive refrigeration doesn't necessarily reduce food waste, it merely shifts where the food waste occurs.
In former times most food spoilage happened between harvest and sale because the lack of refrigeration rotted some of the produce and meat before it ever got to the consumer. We live in such overabundance and tend to buy more than we can realistically consume, lulled by the belief that it'll keep - and then it won't. Things also have a tendency to disappear in our large fridges, and when you finally find that piece of cheese, that yogurt or slice of ham- low and behold it has grown mold or is way beyond its prime. I am certainly guilty of that. Recently, I ended up with three open salsa jars (not sure how that happened), one of which became moldy before we finally discovered it. I also have three big packages of blanched beet greens in the freezer. Every time I open the freezer they say "hello" to me as I rediscover them, and they remind me that I should cook them up instead of "storing" them in the freezer forever (well, at least they won't go bad).
We could save on all fronts, refrigerator size, energy consumption, and food quantities purchased, if we became more aware of our habits and realistic needs. After all, bread can go into the breadbox, jam in the pantry, the pretty red peppers on the table, and maybe we'll use them up quicker if we see them around instead of hiding them in that icebox.