POSTED: 29 JUNE 2008 - 10:30am HST

No Refrigerator - for 30 years...

image above: My grandfather, William Howes, at the well, on 5 August 1933, in Panama, NY

by Greenpa on 30 March 2007 in

The topic of green living is vast and variable. It would be quite easy to get lost in the details. I don't really want this blog to turn into a discussion of my lifestyle on a farm. Most of the people on the planet don't live on farms; and aren't going to, any time we can see in the future. We are now a city based species.
My life here is relevant to city life, however; I hope. I want to start one such conversation here today.

I live without a refrigerator. Have for 3 decades. If you live in a city- you do not need a refrigerator. AT ALL.

It would be easier to do without one in the city than it is in the country.

A great deal of what's in your fridge absolutely does NOT need to be there. If you're interested in trying this, just start by taking all these things out of your fridge, and putting them in a pantry type situation:

• Butter/margarine - shelf life about 2 weeks
• Eggs -shelf life at least a week
• Cheese - keep covered, shelf life variable- taste better unrefrigerated
• ketchup/mustard - shelf life - forever
• honey - shelf life - forever
• onions/garlic - shelf life - 2 weeks
• tomatoes - shelf life - 4 days
• cabbage - shelf life - 1 week
• cooking oil - shelf life - months
• peanut butter - shelf life - months

Ok, long enough list for now, though of course there's more. Some of you are saying "He's crazy, I never keep cooking oil in the fridge!" True, I'm sure; but I know plenty of people who do; just to "be safe". And every time they take it out to cook dinner- the bottle warms up, the door is opened twice, and somewhere, some coal is burned to re-cool it when it goes back in.

What about meat? Milk?

Yeah, refrigeration is a good idea, if you have to keep it more than 6 hours or so.
So don't.

Here's what we do, out in the country; we buy a little meat when we go in to town, use it immediately. Sometimes, if it's a bigger cut like a pot roast, we keep it for 3 or 4 days- cooked on day one, and re-heated whenever eaten- then carefully simmered with the tight top on the pot. And we're very careful NEVER to open the pot- until ready to re-heat. It's just like sterilizing a petri-dish, or hospital equipment- heat it, keep it closed, it stays sterile. Soups- same thing.

Milk- we buy in town sometimes, or use powdered milk in cooking or for kids if they need it. No, it's not as tasty usually- but we all live through it. Can't tell the difference in cooking, I think.

Much of the rest of what folks use refrigerators for clearly comes under the category of "luxury". Ice cream; beer, pop.

Would you be better off if they weren't so handy? If you're like me, if the ice cream is there- I'll eat it. Then buy more. How much of our obesity epidemic is due to having a handy supply of treats in the fridge- all the time?

In a city- it's dead easy to "stop off" somewhere, and just buy - a little ice cream; a little meat; one cold beer.

On days when you aren't going out - do without. Won't kill ya to have potatoes and canned peas for dinner, or a cheese omelet.

This, potentially, is a big deal. Refrigerator lust is one of the things driving huge energy use increases in the developing world- everybody wants one; it proves you're modern.

If we start a movement here in the Overdeveloped World to get RID of them in homes (sure, the restaurants, the stores, need them) - some folks in the OverdevelopING World would pay attention- and perhaps put the brakes on their country's rush to refrigerate. Maybe.

I've worked in China- in places where the nearest refrigerator was probably 100 miles away. Guess what? They manage just fine- and don't "need" it, until you tell them they do.

It would be relatively easy for them to KEEP their healthy habits-rather than try to recover them, after a little romance with refrigerators.

More on this coming. Please send this around- and let me have your comments.
(OH, and true confession - I HAVE rented a locker at the "freezer plant" in town, from time to time. Not at the moment.)

image above: The same old well today. I rebuilt the frame in the 1980's. Note the woods all grown in.

by Juan Wilson on 29 June 2008

The pictures in this article are of a stone well on our property near the Village of
Pamana in the Town of North Harmony, in Chautauqua County, in New York, State. The water is about 25-30 feet below the ground. In the 1950's, when I was a
boy staying at my grandparent's farmhouse for the summer, one of my chores
was to fetch items from the well.

Back then, on a hot August day, the coldest place on the property was the bottom of that well. As a result my grandparents used the well for their refrigerator. That's because the farmhouse had been built in the early 19th century and my grandparents kept it as it was when they bought it in the 1930's. Staying at the farm was like a trip a century back in time; with an outhouse, no running water, no telephone and no electricity.

When I was a boy in the 1950's, we kept a galvanized steel bucket partially submerged down the well. Its rim was kept just a few inches above the water. In it was our butter, milk, eggs and even a few beers for grandpa.

Down at the bottom of the dark well the water was about 55 degrees fahrenheit, and that's not so far from the temperature inside of an electric fridge. The well was also a formidible deterent to varmints like a mouse, raccoon and possum that might like a treat from the bucket.

Later, when I was a young man on Kauai in the 1970's, I lived for over a year in a yellow Volkswagon bus. We camped in several locations around the island away from public parks and roads. We had a cooler and for a while bought ice for it. We soon found that too expensive a proposition. Eventually we took the lid off the cooler and simply stretched a cheesecloth over the top of it. Inside the topless cooler we kept cheese, eggs and other perishables.

We kept the cooler clean and dry. The cheesecloth allowed a recycling of the air in the cooler and protected its contents from insects. The VW was a panel bus (no side windows) and was insulated. We usually parked in shadey spots and kept the back door a crack open with the front side windows open for some breeze. As a result we could keep a careful selection of items for many days without spoilage.

Recently, my wife and I had our fridge break down. We tried to get it repaired. That did not work out. Finally we went out and bought a new unit. Between the time the old one broke down and the new one was delivered we passed about a month without refrigeration.

Again, for a while we were buying bagged ice and keeping a couple of coolers filled. After about a week we tried an experiment. Going without ice. We can attest that living without refrigeration still works. You can live without electric cooling and still be part of western civilization.

Why even think about living without the fridge? Because is is most likely the costliest component of your electric bill. In the near energy future that is something all of us will have to deal with in one way or another.

see also:
Island Breath: The modern rickshaw 6/27/08
Island Breath: Kauai Sustainability 1/4/04