Fridge-free life closes many doors, but it opens others. If the Maytag on order never arrives, I might eat more raw food. I might get a dehydrator and make zesty pineapple-banana fruit leather. I might pickle and can. I might garden. I might buy and share an industrial-size walk-in with my neighbors — we could store the unit between our back yards to chill essentials such as medication and strawberry shortcake ice cream bars. I’d definitely have a smaller supply of the fried, fatty, sugary, microwavable, wastefully packaged foods that often end up in deep freeze.
If I’m avoiding frozen pizzas and bean burritos, am I saving any money or helping the planet? To find out, I called Reinhard Radermacher, a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. The German-born editor of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers’ HVAC&R Research journal, Radermacher confirmed that Europeans get by with much smaller fridges than Americans and said the appliance doesn’t devour much energy.
“The conventional wisdom is that a refrigerator consumes as much as a 50-watt light bulb,” he said. “Over the last 30 years, the refrigerators have become so energy efficient that they are a relatively small energy consumer in the household.”
According to Radermacher, unplugging the Kenmore will save about 700 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. At about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, that’s roughly $90 Pepco won’t get — small savings that don’t justify daily ice runs.
Cost considerations aside, could industrial society function without a refrigerator in every home? American yuppie urbanites surrounded by supermarkets are uniquely positioned to jettison the fridge. If we get biodegradable diapers, bottled water, groceries and raw milk delivered, why not ice for iceboxes, just like Granddad? Giant and Safeway let us ignore sound advice to eat local by bringing us tomatoes in January and wild salmon from Alaska. We could at least consume these luxuries before they go bad.
I’ve been haggling with Sears to get a new fridge since the old one broke. Though my kid enjoys filling the cooler with ice and now insists on drinking “icy water,” I don’t want to continue this experiment.
But my family could survive it. Two weeks into my fridge-free life, I picked up a bag of produce at our local farm share. When I fretted that my okra, green beans, heirloom tomatoes and squash would rot, the woman behind the counter pointed out that they would probably do fine on the kitchen counter for a few days.
She was right.
Justin Moyer is Outlook’s editorial aide.
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