Living Without a Fridge

by Kim Forhand

[Reprinted from the sweet but defunct Kokopelli Notes.]

A couple of years ago I read an article that forever changed my kitchen. It was about the widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as refrigerants and the impact of the movie "E.T " on people living in China. It posed the compelling question: What is going to happen when one trillion Chinese people see E.T. drink all of that cold beer and get knocked over by the refrigerator door stocked full of conveniently chilled and well lit food and drink items! And what will they want to do with all of those dollars earned by importing our raw materials and sending us back cheap manufactured goods for a hefty profit?

The answer was clear: They'll want refrigerators of their very own! And what will that mean to the existing $8 billion per year CFC industry? An even bigger market for those manmade industrial chemicals that end up floating around like invisible little plastic chips in our atmosphere. And what does that mean to all members (including Americans) of the plant and animal kingand-queendoms? Probably a very nasty, scorching extinction brought on by ultraviolet sunlight slipping past a thinning ozone shield.

Right now, with just a few billion freefloating chlorine molecules in our atmosphere, we're only conducting a dangerous experiment. But if all of those Chinese join in, that would put the nail in the coffin.

The solution was obvious: The Chinese must never find out about refrigerators. We must recall all movies and television programs that show the typical US kitchen But then the major lesson of my childhood kicked in, and that little voice in my head said, "But you must share your toys!" It was then that I realized that if the ozone was not something that everyone could play with, then neither could I. Within months I sold my refrigerator.

At first I wondered how a babyboomer like myself who was raised on frozen foods and meat and dairy products could survive without a refrigerator. It seemed too much like a necessity, like air and water and CD players. I started out tentatively by unplugging it for awhile to see if I could really do it. All the while I thought about my ancestors who had survived for eons without such a contraption. At the same time, I mentally put refrigerator in the same category with heroin, morphine, LSD, fossil fuels, and television, and reminded myself from time to time that I was simply going through withdrawal.

It was not easy at first. A lot of leftovers went to the compost pile. I didn't always have quick access to what I wanted to eat right when I wanted it. It was much harder to pig out when I was stressed out. And most of all, I missed popsicles. But over time the benefits began to accrue. My monthly electric bill went down from an average of $28 per month to about $11, or 407 kilowatts per month to 110 kilowatts per month. (Warning: these figures also reflect the impact of an improved outdoor clothesline.)

In the winter I put perishables (like mayonnaise) outside, and the weather did a fine job of keeping them cold. In the summer I planted a garden so that vegetables could stay fresh on the vine; as a result, meals became tastier. After the refrigerator was sold, I had a lot more space in the kitchen. I got used to food and drink that was not icecold and stopped eating as much irradiated and otherwise contaminated packaged, frozen, and processed foods. I discovered that storebought vegetables keep longer if they're in water, and eggs last longer if you turn the carton over every day. That ominous humming sound disappeared from the kitchen, and I learned to better plan meals in advance, and to prepare only the amount that could be eaten within a day.

In short, I've adapted and have lived comfortably without a refrigerator in my home for almost two years now. Of course, the withdrawal period was made much easier by the fact that I eat mostly dried beans, rice, and cereals that are easily stored for long periods of time. I also live in town, close to the local food co-op, so it's easy to drop by or hike over every other day or so for fresh vegetables and fruits. I'm also blessed with a partner who assists in all phases of the food procurement, meal planning and preparation process.

I realize it would not be as easy for everyone to live without a refrigerator. However, I still recommend it wholeheartedly. Pull that plug and go cold turkey for a year or two and experience the liberation of a refrigeratorless kitchen. Overall, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. The only drawback that I can think of is that sometimes people who come overr to the house notice that there is no refrigerator and feel compelled to (a) justify their refrigerator (b) invalidate atmospheric science, (c) convince me that one less refrigerator user in this world makes no difference and I should join in the party while the ship goes down or (d) all of the above. I've found that the best response is "Really?"

Surprisingly, probably the biggest benefit for me has been psychological. Selling my refrigerator has lessened the quantity of guilt that I manage as someone who knows that billions ot free chlorine atoms now float in the atmosphere for the first time in the Earth's four billion year history alltlitl 5060 years they'll reach the stratosphere where they could take out half of our existing ozone layer. And as a consumer I had something to do with putting them there. It has also given me a renewed sense of power that I had lost while watching the government deny the CFC problem for the past twelve years.

I still go to the polls and write letters and sign petitions but I also get to vote in a way that probably counts the most-with my lifestyle and dollars. At the same time I get a tremendous clli kll i li thrill from being ahle to chant: "Ha ha Dupont! You can't make me!"

I also enjoyed a recent visit to my electric company office to get my monthly electricity consumption record. The woman helping me pulled up my record paused for quite awhile and then said ' How big is your unit?"

"It's a three bedroom house " l answered. Then she said ''Hmmmm...there must he something wrong with our measuring device."

Further techniques for keeping your cool without a refrigerator:

1) Catch cold night air in a cooler: Crack the lid of the cooler to let in the night air, without letting in animals. In the morning, close the lid keep it in the shade, and you've got natural airconditioning for several hours.

2) in winter keep food in a closed off room or closet.

3) Hang potatoes, onions, squash, etc., in a basket

4) Keep things in the basement, or--if you're lucky to have one--a root cellar.

5) Dry leftovers in a food dehydrator-use later for camping.

6) Keep several jars of canned vegetables and fruits on hand, as well and other quick-cooking foods.

7) Put a couple gallon jugs of water outside at night to freeze (or cool in warmer months). Keep your fridge where it is after it is unplugged and place these jugs inside, on a rotating basis, to keep the food cool.

8) Dig a hole in your yard and place in it a five gallon plastic bucket with tightfitting lid. (Often restaurants will give these away, or you can buy them at a department store.) Food will stay cooler undeground especially if there is insulation on the lid.



Instructions for building swampcoolers, as well as for storing lake ice, are written up in other issues of Kokopelli Notes. I'll reprint if requested, or if I find the time. Swamp coolers are neato and work darn good and aren't even that oldfashioned. (Sawing lake ice is a whole nother ballgame.)