The “Fridgeless” Experiment

One of the eco-focused online communities I belong to is the 90PercentReduction Yahoo Group. Participants are dedicated to reducing their personal eco-footprints to 10% of the U.S. average. In this challenge, which for most of us is really more of an ongoing adventure than a state of arrival, we employ various simple yardsticks. And (in what one list member dubbed "Mister Wizard Science Experiments"), we tweak our daily living habits on a trial-and-error basis, each one of us serving as our own lab rats.

The other day, one list member announced her decision to experiment with going without a refrigerator in June. Other list members, who either live fridge-free full time or have conducted short-term experiments in doing so, chimed in with helpful suggestions.

Tried-and-true strategies include reducing or eliminating perishable foods from one's diet; digging a root cellar; and using the grocery store as your "external cold storage drive." Of course, not all of these strategies will work in every climate or living environment. For example, if you don't have a grocery store in walkable or bikable distance.

Beyond the practical tips for living fridge-free, one list member also pointed out that today's refrigerators consume relatively little electricity, so doing without a fridge might not be such a meaningful exercise. As a permaculturist, I adhere firmly to the design principle, "Obtain a yield." Reducing electricity consumption by even a watt here and there is a good thing for the planet, but in order for doing without a fridge to be worthwhile for people, they need to be getting something out of it. Personally, I have obtained significant yields from my Fridgeless experiment. These yields and some of my research findings are summarized below. My Fridgeless experiment (in the summers of 2009-2010 in Austin) gave me many yields including:

  • enhanced resilience: I learned how I would cope, and help others cope, if the grid went down
  • the satisfaction of adopting a practice that, were it adopted by enough other people, would significantly reduce demand now being served by coal and nuclear.
  • tastier food. Produce that's been chilled loses much of its flavor.
  • good skills of organization and food husbandry What I learned:
  • if I don't use a fridge in summer, I need really good varmint-proof box such as a sturdy cooler etc. Well, in this climate, hardly anything is varmint-PROOF, but varmint-resistant is essential.  
  • one function of a fridge is air circulation. Veggies in a box without air circulation don't keep as long. If I had stayed in that RV, I would have turned the space formerly occupied by the fridge into a screened food-storage box that would be designed to draw cool air upward. (This would optimally be located on the north side of the house, which mine was.)
  • the giant mutant cockroaches of Texas LOVE grapefruit. As in, will gnaw holes in the peel to get to the juicy fruit. I found this out the hard way so you don't have to. [shudder]
  • sauerkraut that takes a week to make in winter, can be ready in a couple days in summer.
  • in a hot climate, pickles are very helpful, just as spices are, for digestion and appetite.
  • being able to walk to a grocery store is a lifesaver. Their fridge becomes my "external storage drive," so to speak.
  • Feral foods such as nopalito, lambs quarters, etc, that grow all over wherever you live, are also a lifesaver.
  • and of course you should always be growing a bit of your own. Even if you're a pathetic brown-thumbed gardener like me, you can always be growing SOMETHING. For me, that "something" is most often sprouts in a jar!!! – (actually I knew this before) present-day Americans refrigerate a lot of stuff that doesn't need refrigerating.
  • sometimes a listserve post can become a blog entry, that might embolden and inspire others to conduct their own "Mister Wizard Science Experiments" in fridgeless living …

By the way, in my current home in Florida, we have four adults and one teenager sharing a refrigerator. I don't need the fridge much, but like it because it lets me keep fresh cream for my coffee. And a final note: In winter, even in Austin, I found I didn't really need a fridge at all, so I just quit using it.

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