Refrigeration Without Electricity

Nowadays, most people in the USA and other industrialized nations don’t know how to keep food cool without electricity. It’s a skill our grandparents had, and a skill that can be lifesaving in times of emergency.

One approach to reducing your dependence on electric refrigeration is to reduce or eliminate food that requires refrigeration. This is simpler for vegans than for people whose diet includes meat and dairy, but is also do-able for us omnivores.

Another approach is to explore low-tech food-cooling options including root cellars, evaporative cooling, and passively cooled cabinets.

Melliodora permaculture center in Australia has a “cool cupboard for storage of fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and flour. A vent at the bottom of the cupboard draws cool air in from under the floor into the insulated cupboard and a roof vent releases warm air. Wire baskets allow the air to flow through. This design feature means that only a small refrigerator is required, saving considerable energy.”

5 Forgotten Ways To Keep Food Cold Without Electricity (article from Off the Grid News) offers brief descriptions of a root cellar, running water, evaporative cooling, Zeer pot, and icebox.

Also, there are commercially produced low-tech products such as the Mitticool clay refrigeratormentioned in this article by Inhabitat which also mentions some pretty futuristic, cutting-edge options including a gel-based cooling device and a futuristic-looking underground fridge designed to mimic a root cellar.

My current “outdoor non-fridge” pictured above, is viable for short periods in cool weather but is not practical in the long run. I’m working on a design for a storage closet made of concrete blocks. I’d put this on the north side of my house just under the drip line of the roof. In our coastal climate we get water dripping off the roof most nights. The evaporation of the water off the concrete would help keep things cool. Sort of an above-ground root cellar. It’s actually similar to the concept of the “Mitticool clay refrigerator” linked above.

Also, my refrigerator, even when it’s not plugged in, is significantly cooler than the surrounding environment. I’m currently storing condiments in there.

At one point I thought of buying a mini fridge, and may still do so, for the few things I ever would need to refrigerate. But if you go this route, you need to check the wattage carefully. I hear that mini fridges can consume almost as much electricity as a full-sized energy-efficient fridge, in which case you might as well stick with that if you have one. (My fridge is large and not energy-efficient.)

If you’d like to read more about my experiments with doing without a fridge, type “Fridgeless” in the search field (right sidebar).

In a future post I’ll be talking about simple, low-tech methods of food preservation. In the meantime, stay cool, everyone!

Super-handy Footprint Calculators

In previous posts, I’ve shared the link to the Riot for Austerity footprint calculator. This calculator makes it easy to compute your personal or household footprint in relation to the U.S. average in seven basic categories: transportation, electricity, heating & cooking fuel, garbage output, water, consumer goods, and food.

Now I’ve just stumbled on another really handy calculator for computing your carbon footprint. The carbon footprint calculator on Michael Bluejay’s website lets you compute your footprint in relation to the U.S. average in four categories: home energy use, driving, diet (vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore), and flying. Michael’s calculator additionally allows you to see where your total footprint stacks up in relation to the world average.

I find both of these calculators really useful, and will use them both on an ongoing basis. Both sites also offer a wealth of tips on the best ways to make major reductions in your footprint.

While it isn’t necessary to calculate your footprint, many of us have found it a very helpful or even essential step in making reductions. Plus, it’s really kind of fun to see where you stand in relation to the average, and to chart your progress in the different areas over time.

You can also create your own calculation by picking out some area of your life that’s costing you a lot of money, time, effort, or other resources, and aiming to cut that expenditure. For example, you could notice that you’re spending $100 a month on gasoline, and aim to cut that by 20% or 90% or whatever you feel is both worthwhile and doable. You could notice that you’re spending 10 hours a day online, and aim to cut that time, say, in half, by focusing more deliberately instead of noodling aimlessly.

What are some areas in your life where you see opportunities to cut your footprint? And how would you like to measure those, what targets would you like to set?

Fridgeless Experiment Part 2

Part 1 of my “Fridgeless Experiment” took place in Austin TX in the summer of 2011. You can read about it here. Nutshell, a lot of things don’t need to be refrigerated, and it isn’t all that big a deal to do without a fridge. Living within walking distance of a food market definitely makes it easier, as does growing at least a few of your own greens and fruits, and knowing your local wild edible plants.

Recently I decided to have another go at fridgeless living. I’ve had my fridge unplugged since just after Thanksgiving. (I have actually gone fridgeless at a few points since my first effort back in 2011, but since I’ve mostly been living with roommates since then, the experiments have been limited to short durations of a few days at a time.)

From my current round of fridgeless living, here are some of my tips for food shopping and storage:

I grocery-shop once a week, at my local Saturday farmers’ market. Although produce doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it does fall into perishability categories, from “must use quickly” (berries and other soft-skinned fruits; veggies such as lettuces and broccoli) to “lasts longer” (apples, citrus fruits, cabbage, potatoes). I keep most produce in the coolest, shadiest corner of my shaded patio, as opposed to indoors.

Berries, star fruit, other soft-skinned fruits: I always plan to eat them that same day or the next day. Strawberries and other berries will keep overnight but not much longer. If I buy raspberries I eat them right away (not only because they’re perishable but also because they are an irresistible special treat)! Save the more durable fruits such as apples, bananas, citrus for later in the week. Watermelon: SHARE! Buy with sharing in mind. If any fruit was meant to help people form closer bonds with their neighbors, surely it is the wonderful watermelon. Or, you can buy one of those mini melons and eat half one day and half the next day.

Broccoli: Eat the floret part within one or two days. I cut off the tops to eat right away (aim to finish eating them within two days of purchase, which for me means finish them by Sunday evening). The tougher “trunk” of the broccoli can be grated, and along with carrots and cabbage, makes a delicious ingredient for slaw. That broccoli “trunk” lasts for days. What I have been doing for storage is take the broccoli, and also the carrots and put them in a shallow tub of water. (I use one of the veggie storage drawers from the fridge for this purpose.) I take the tops off the carrots and stick those in their own widemouthed mason jar like a vase. Carrot tops last a few days. UPDATE: It turns out that carrots themselves keep for several days in water as long as the air temperature is cool, say in the 40s at night and no higher than the mid-60s in the daytime. But once the temps started getting more “normal” for us Floridians, I noticed the carrots getting soft spots and eventually going completely bad after 3-4 days. I may experiment with adding vinegar to the water. And eating up the carrots faster!

Dressings and condiments: generally do not require refrigeration. Then again I don’t use mayonnaise or anything that contains mayonnaise. If I used mayonnaise I would be worried about leaving it unrefrigerated.

Cheese: lasts for days outside the fridge. Butter doesn’t need to be refrigerated. In summer in hot places, the liquid separates out and the butter goes all to mush, which is probably why our friends in India invented ghee.

Yogurt: Can keep outside the fridge for a few days, especially in cool weather.

Meat: I have heard that ceviche (fresh fish “cooked” in lime juice) will last for several days unrefrigerated. Have tried that for 2-3 days and it was fine. Other meats, I either eat on the spot (at a restaurant) or eat the leftovers by the next day. I wouldn’t advise anyone to leave meat sitting out overnight, though I do it all the time and have never experienced ill effects. Raw meat, I would never leave out.

Tofu: I would buy in small batches if I could, and use quickly. In Austin I knew a woman who had a tofu-making business. Maybe there is one where you live. Or an Asian supermarket that sells tofu in bulk, so you can bring your own container and only get what you need that day. I once ate a tofu wrap that had been sitting out overnight in summer and it was fine, but I would not advise anyone else to assume that would be fine.

Eggs: They supposedly keep for a long time outside the fridge and only go bad if they are washed. (In the USA they usually are washed, unless you get yours straight from your own chickens or a friend’s chickens).

Ice: I generally only use ice in summer, and even then only as an occasional treat. (My joke, as a person who doesn’t like the cold, is “Don’t even SAY the ‘I-word’ to me between October and May!”) When I have guests, we buy a bag of ice and keep it in a cooler. The ice can keep for days if stored in the shade in a well-insulated cooler. And actually, a lot of the friends who come stay with me are likeminded, so we don’t even always buy ice.

My weak spot: is/was cream for my coffee. Right now I’m drinking it black. Sometimes I buy a can of evaporated milk but that will only keep for a couple days outside the fridge so it would be a waste unless we get a spell of really cold weather. If you live up north, it’s easy for you to have cream in your coffee without a fridge, at least in winter. I’ve had condensed sweetened milk last for up to 5 days outside the fridge, but I don’t generally like sweetened coffee so I usually don’t go for that option.

I still have my fridge, so I can plug it back in anytime if I have extended guests or a longterm housemate. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the experiment which has cut my electricity consumption in half. Note, doing without a fridge is not likely to cut your electricity consumption in half, unless you are like me and are already going without heat, air-conditioning, clothes-dryer, and water-heater. It will cut your consumption significantly though — by about 13%, according to Department of Energy data quoted on Michael Bluejay’s “Mr. Electricity” website.

Besides saving a bit of money and a considerable amount of electricity, what’s the point of doing without a fridge? For me, besides those benefits, there’s also the very significant benefit of improved self-reliance; household preparedness. Knowing I can do without a fridge, I feel much less vulnerable to power outages. Thanks to this experiment and my various other steps to reduce my dependence on electricity, I really don’t worry about power outages, and I’m better equipped to help other people deal with outages. If you try a fridgeless experiment, let me know how it goes and what you learn!

Resource Alert: My 2011 “Fridgeless Experiment” post was originally published on the Austin EcoNetwork blog. Whether or not you live in Austin, AEN’s site is a valuable resource for green living and activism.

Happy New Year

Photo 1: Christmas wreath.
Photo 2: Christmas wreath transitions to New Year’s wreath!

Except for the little red birds (which I purchased at a vintage thrift shop) on the Christmas version of the wreath, it’s all made of scraps and upcycled “trash” that came my way. To me the “landfill diversion” aspect makes it that much prettier!

My first thought as I stepped back and looked at my work was, “Yikes, this doesn’t look polished or professional.” But then I realized that the homespun quality was not necessarily a bad thing. “Perfection pressure” (brought to us by Martha Stewart, Southern Living mag, etc.) can really put a damper on the fun of decorating.

Personally, I believe that house decorations are a success if they 1) are fun to make and put up; and 2) help create a cozy welcoming atmosphere in a neighborhood. Of course, if a person gets genuine pleasure out of aiming for a polished, “perfect” look in their decorations, that is fine too! Then it becomes authentic self-expression rather than stress or pressure for that person.

Happy 2019 to all of you. May this year bring you an abundance of everything that gives depth and meaning to your life.

Going “Deeper Rather than Wider”

Although my initial motivation for living a low-footprint life was “to help the environment,” I quickly discovered other, very compelling PERSONAL benefits that have kept me going even when making a low-footprint choice requires extra effort.

One such personal benefit is greatly reduced financial overhead (thanks to having a $15 electricity bill, no car payment, no car insurance payment, etc.).

Which also means having a lot more free time, because I don’t have to work long hours just to earn the money I need to meet my basic living expenses.

And it even goes deeper than just “more free time.” It’s more like, “more free space in my head.” Life is a lot calmer in the alternate universe of my low-footprint life.

So you might ask what I do with all that freed-up time and headspace. And my honest answer would be, Not much! At least not much in terms of being externally observable as noteworthy. Oh sure, I volunteer in my community, participate in city government meetings, things like that. And last year I wrote my first book (DEEP GREEN), and this year I’ve been marketing the book, and also working on my first novel.

But really, in the scheme of things, I don’t do all that much. I’m pretty sure I’m not one of those human whirlwinds of whom people ask, “How DOES she do it all?”

What I DO do, that’s noteworthy to me internally (as opposed to observable externally), is … I have time to breathe. I have time to enjoy the shadows that appear on the wall at different times of day in the different rooms of my house. Shadows of flickering leaves, birds, bending palm fronds, passing cars. Time to converse with neighbors who happen to be passing by.

As the Blue Oyster Cult put it (in one of my favorite songs from my high-school years, “Burning for You”), I’ve got “time everlasting … time to play B-sides.” Interestingly enough, even as a teenager with a secure roof over my head and no concern except school, I never felt like I had the time to invest in playing the B-sides of records. Now finally I do have that time! (Though I own no actual records, as in vinyl-based recordings of music, I get to do the equivalent of “playing B-sides” every time I take a moment to savor a perfectly ordinary moment of the day which turns out to be juicy technicolor.)

I have time to read the books that have been sitting on my bookshelves for years. I’m finally settling into writing, something I always “was going to do” but never really got serious about. Finally sinking my teeth in instead of giving up at any sign of difficulty (and trust me, I experience MANY moments of difficulty and pain with writing). Finally making it a day-in, day-out thing.

Some years back, I had the urge to just stop buying new books and other new stuff, until I had caught up with all the books, art supplies, other stuff that was already under my own roof. Although I never completely stopped buying books (or art supplies), I slowed down a lot on those purchases. And I’m gaining on the backlog of unread, unused stuff under my own roof. And I’ve gotten great satisfaction from refining my focus to the things I’ve decided I want to pursue in greater depth.

One of my favorite writers, David Cain of Raptitude​.com, devised the concept of a “Depth Year” — a year of “going deeper rather than wider.” His idea resonated with a lot of people. It definitely resonated with me! As David observes in his recent blog post (see link at the end of this post), “We live in great danger of keeping our most cherished pursuits unexplored, buried in the realm of ‘potential.’ Going deeper means finally seeing what’s really going to come of them. And that’s damn scary.”

I didn’t set out to make this past year a “depth year”; rather, I have been setting out to make my whole life a “depth year.” Although I expect I’ll take up new interests as the years go by, I have certain core pursuits that I plan to keep focusing on and deepening. Along with writing, my core pursuits include art, personal growth (deliberate evolution of consciousness), and (of course) low-footprint living and setting an example of same to others.

As you might imagine, the “depth year” concept goes really well with the “zero-waste journey” and low-footprint living. You might even have tried the “depth year” experiment yourself. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

May the last day of 2018 bring you many blessings. Enjoy today! And enjoy the transition to a brand new number on the calendar.

Why the Depth Year Was My Best Year: “Towards the end of last year I proposed an idea that unexpectedly caught fire: what if, for a whole year, you stopped acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits. Instead, you return to abandoned projects, stalled hobbies, unread books and other neglected intentions, and go deeper with them than you ever have before. … Because it’s so easy to acquire new pursuits, we tend to begin what are actually enormous, lifelong projects (such as drawing, or language-learning) too often, and abandon them too easily. This chronic lack of follow-through makes us feel bad, but worse than that, we never actually reach the level of fulfillment we believed we would when we first bought the guitar or the drawing pencils …”

Sunrise, Sunset

The sunsets have started getting later again. Where I live, in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA, sunsets hit “peak earliness” for a period from late November through December 10, when the sun set at 5:26 every day. On December 11, sunset here was at 5:27pm and it has been getting later ever since. Ever so slightly and gradually, sunlit afternoons are once again expanding.

Dark winter mornings continue as the sunrises are still getting later. Sunrise will hit “peak lateness” here in January. The “peak lateness” time here is 7:19, and the sun will be rising at that time every day from January 3 through January 19. On January 20 it will rise at 7:18 here, and the sunrise time gets earlier from here out.

The actual shortest day of 2018 was of course Friday, December 21 — the Winter Solstice.

This is my favorite sunrise/sunset calendar site that I’ve found so far. To get started, you input your city or ZIP code. Along with getting sunrise/sunset times, you can also get it to display other times such as “civil twilight”, moonrise and moonset, etc. I particularly like this site because it lets you see a month at a glance, in visual calendar format.

Awareness of sunrise and sunset times (maybe not the precise minutes, but the general patterns) is natural to anyone who spends time outdoors at those hours. Same with the moon phases. But many people in the modern industrial world do not have that opportunity. Living a low-footprint life has allowed me more free time and energy to stay in touch with the rhythms of day and night. In the routine of everyday living, I still lose track sometimes though, which is why I love these calendar sites so much! I feel depleted and unmoored when I lose track of the daily and seasonal rhythms of nature.

I really believe it’s good for our health (physical and emotional) to stay in touch with natural rhythms of the days and seasons. It’s something a person can do even in the most dense, crowded city. And even if you work in an office, you might be able to arrange to be near a window at certain times of day.

Keeping in touch with nature’s rhythms costs nothing; it brings beauty into our lives; and it gives a topic of conversation that can be shared with anyone. You know, like the weather! Observational chat about sunrises and sunsets, moonrises/moonsets, the changing length of the days, the changing angle of the sun, and so on is actually a great way to bond with neighbors and build community, I’ve found. And verbalizing these observations to the folks around us is an unobtrusive way to expand everyone’s awareness of natural rhythms.

Wonderful Company

One key to the success of a grassroots movement is that people feel connected, not alone. With that in mind, I’ve started a new section in the sidebar of this blog, specifically for groups and pages that are dedicated to low-footprint living. My focus is on the personal and household level because I truly believe that is where most of the power to make a difference lies. “Hubs of the Low-footprint Lifestyle Movement” has four links right now, and will expand as I find other relevant links. For your convenience I’ve also posted the current list below.

The grassroots, worldwide movement for personal and household footprint reduction is gaining momentum, thanks in large part to the people and groups that are recognizing the power of daily choices at the personal and household level. Here are the strongest groups I know of so far:

Riot for Austerity: (90PercentReduction) Facebook group Yahoo group
Journey to Zero-Waste: Facebook group
1 Million Women (“women and girls from every corner of the planet building a lifestyle revolution to fight the climate crisis”): Facebook group Website
Join the Degrowth Revolution (JTDR): Facebook group

Truly, none of us is alone in our dedication to low-footprint living. We are in wonderful company.

And, in this holiday season (whatever holiday(s) you celebrate), may you find yourself in an abundance of wonderful company. Joyous holy-days to you.