Our Refrigerator is (Almost) Empty

Could you live without a fridge?

A year or two back, this was a hot topic among those striving for the ultimate sustainable lifestyle.  For those in the Riot for Austerity trying to cut their energy and resource use by 80%, the refrigerator came in for close scrutiny.  It’s a huge energy suck–often the biggest draw in the house besides heating.  So there were many who experimented with unplugging the fridge all together.  Usually this meant taking lots of things out of the fridge that don’t need to be there (most condiments, for instance), buying smaller amounts of fresh foods more often, European market style, and learning to do without a few things–like ice water or ice cream–that many folks around the world do without too.

Many who experimented were surprised to find out that they didn’t miss their fridges.  They were able to modify coolers or ice boxes for short term use and didn’t miss the constant electric hummmmmmmm or the charge in their utility bills.  Others found that there were a few really important things that needed refrigeration (breast milk came up a few times!), but that they could easily make do with a bar fridge or other, much smaller, appliance.

I watched all of this with some bemusement at the time and generally felt this was a more radical move than was necessary.  We moved into our condo and I LOVED my brand new, highly efficient, bottom freezer, stainless steel refrigerator.   Every couple of weeks, the Skipper and I would take a trip out to our favorite farm, and we’d come home and STOCK that fridge.  It would be packed with fresh produce from top to bottom.  My most important criteria in a fridge became large, deep crispers with humidity control–the more the better.

When we moved, we knew we would need a new fridge at some point.  The one we’ve inherited is 10 years old, white, the seals get moldy, and the freezer is up top.  The crispers are ok, but they are at the very bottom, and you have to open the fridge door REALLY wide to access them.  There’s also not enough tall storage on the door…you know…for the wine bottles. 🙂  We are such geeks that we have spent more than one Saturday walking through appliance stores drooling over the wares…

Most importantly, I thought we would need a bigger fridge.  After all, I thought, if I was stocking the last one full with the produce from the farm, surely with my garden producing well, I would need something even larger?

Well here it is, the peak of the harvest season (such as it is), and our fridge has been on the verge of empty for months.  It holds eggs, cheese, milk, juice, condiments and sometimes leftovers.  And the occasional piece of fruit that is creeping too quickly toward overripeness.

The bulk of what we’re eating is, of course, in the garden!  And although I could harvest all the carrots now and keep them in the crisper, there doesn’t seem to be much point when they might just get a little bigger if I leave them in the ground.  It is more convenient sometimes to harvest a couple of heads of lettuce and assorted spicy greens, wash and dry them all at once and keep them in a bucket for easy salads over a few days, but even that isn’t constant or even essential to freshness.  Then there are the tomatoes, which should never even see the fridge, and so are taking up the dining table (we eat on the couch, of course!).

The pantry is filling up slowly with potatoes, jam, and with a little luck, canned tomatoes, and the freezer is PACKED.  Crab bait, crab, salmon, berries, a few loaves of bread, and the odd Costco purchase buried in the bottom.  Can’t live without that.  But the fridge?  I’m rethinking what we might need.  Maybe we don’t need a full on kitchen reno to get some more counter space.  Maybe we just need a bar fridge and a countertop swapped in where the standard one is today.  Might save some money and energy too.

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5 thoughts on “Our Refrigerator is (Almost) Empty

  1. I’m so glad that you posted this. I’ve been trying to figure out how we’re going to go without a fridge on the liveaboard boat actually. We have a fridge in the counter but it’s very small and I’d rather not be dependent on it because it’s another drain on the battery. When we get our solar and wind set up, then we’ll see if we have power to play with. But yes, breast milk is one thing that came up in my head already. Thank you for rethinking this simple appliance for me. I think maybe we’ll be able to do without…. Or minimal….

    1. Amanda, you’re so right. What I’ve been thinking of as a personal challenge is something that liveaboards, rvers, tiny house occupants, etc, deal with every day. I think it’s just a matter of buying smaller quantities at a time and using things up more. Not so much of the typical North American practice of buying a ton every week or two and storing and hoarding multiples of everything and having stuff that goes bad in the fridge. Not that that would ever happen to me, of course 😉 !

  2. Interesting post, Toni. I’m embarrassed to say that we have two fridges – one for food, the the other for booze. Both freezers are full of fish, much of which will get into the smoker when Dan finishes assembling it later today. I would *love* to get rid of the second fridge, since one is enough to host all of our condiments. This might just be the right kick in the butt we needed!

  3. So we’ve been trying to do an ice box as a fridge and buy smaller portions of everything. It was going ok until we made coffee this morning and even though the cream didn’t smell off, it poured chunks into my husband’s freshly made coffee. That was the last straw with the ice box. It really doesn’t stay cool enough. So now we’re wondering if dry bags hung in the ocean which stays about 4-5 degrees celcius would suffice? I wonder, if on land as a solution, if people depended on a dry cellar system, lots of canned goods, lots of dehydrated goods, and storing things in salt, old fashioned-style?

    Or what about designing a fridge that is powered by solar?

    1. Dear me! Chunks in my liquids would definitely be the last straw for me too. Dry bags could work; I know on our boat the beer gets stored in the bilge, where it is essentially kept at sea temperature, but of course dry and reasonably accessible. Might that be an option?

      But I think you’re probably on to something with the solar-powered fridge. Many permanent cruisers have small 12-volt appliances that are powered by the battery charged by solar panels or small wind turbines. It always seemed to be the best kind of low-impact living to me. Is that something you’re already equipped with or could set up?

      Good luck and I look forward to reading more!

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