‘Mr. Wizard’ Science Experiments: Going Fridgeless

One of the eco-focused online communities I belong to is the “90 Percent Reduction” 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 his/her own personal lab rat.

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 in my post to the listserve, which appears (with some modifications for this audience) below.

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I lived in Austin TX for 16 years (am now based in Florida but still spend a lot of time in Austin).

For the last 10 of those 16 years I lived in a travel trailer in an urban RV park. I did not and do not use air conditioning, because I simply find it unpleasant. Noisy; cold; cuts me off from nature, etc. Also I love the heat. No sacrifice for me, doing without a/c.

For five years I also haven’t used heat. Harder for me, since I feel cold at temps below 80F, but still do-able. And it keeps getting easier. With blankets and hat, I can now tolerate sitting in a quite chilly room and doing fine handwork such as typing, needlepoint, etc., for some hours. When it’s really cold, I’m either asleep (burrowed under blankets, toasty warm) or engaged in vigorous activity of some sort, or “renting heat” and enjoying community at a coffeehouse or music venue or friend’s house.

My next frontier was the Fridgeless in Austin experiment, which I conducted in the summer of 2009 and again in 2010. (I did it in winter too, but didn’t consider it an experiment, because most of the foods I eat are easy to keep at room temp in winter, even in Texas or Florida.)

My Fridgeless experiment 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.

One thought on “‘Mr. Wizard’ Science Experiments: Going Fridgeless

  1. Kathryn Grace

    While it is unlikely I will give up a refrigerator any time soon, as a young woman I did experiment with keeping foods fresh without refrigeration. It’s easier than one might think for many of the basics. Thanks for the tip on the 90 percent reduction group. I joined!

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