Life Without a Refrigerator

Our empty refrigerator...a sign of increasing self-sufficiency.

Last week, our family reached a new level in the quest for self-sufficiency:  we unplugged the refrigerator.  We simply didn’t need it any more.   It’s empty and has been for a few weeks.  Tomorrow, it’s leaving and we will live in a home with no refigerator.   I can’t wait to see the look on visitors’ faces when then realize something’s missing from the kitchen.  

We’re happy to get rid of it because, now that we’re no longer using it, we realize how many bad habits it promotes.   The refrigerator wasn’t invented for country people, but for the city, and the love of eating (and all the disease and poverty that goes with it) that plagues sedentary city culture wouldn’t be possible without a fridge.

First, it allows you to eat according to your desires rather than according to what is naturally available with the changing seasons.  With a fridge running, you can go to the store and buy anything your belly wants at any time of the year–meat and sweets more than anything.   On the farm, there’s no need for a fridge because the food is right here.  Of course, you can’t eat anything you feel like–you have to make the most of what’s available.  As you return to seasonal foods, all of the holidays and traditional meals begin to make sense. 

Second, it supports big appetites since you can always refrigerate what’s left over.  Make all that you want…and just stick whatever you can’t finish in the fridge…and finish it later.  When the refrigerator isn’t available you learn to eat what is fresh and you realize that most of the stuff that is unhealthy for you to be eating can’t exist in a fridge-less house.  No ice cream.  No cold soda or fruit juices. 

Third, like most conveniences, it fosters stupidity.  Rather than the forthought and planning that needed on a farm, the fridge promotes the life of afterthoughts.  There’s always a few extra (junk) meals on hand any time you run out of real food.   We appreciate the pressure on us to think before we act and to sacrifice whenever we fail to plan well.  The sacrifice helps us to become more thoughtful and self-disciplines since what we have is to be used as needed…a sudden burst of hunger isn’t allowed to empty a box of ice cream or drink 3 extra glasses of orange juice.  We need to practice self-control and follow reason, which helped us establish a schedule and diet that’s good for our whole life–not just our tongue…right now.

Anyway, farewell, fridge.

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16 Responses to Life Without a Refrigerator

  1. LeeAnn Balbirona says:

    As per usual, you are in the vanguard of eco-trendiness (ha ha): “Trashing the Fridge”

    “PEOPLE who do best without a refrigerator often have certain built-in lifestyle advantages — they live alone and don’t have to cook large meals for a family, say, or they live on a farm or within walking distance of a grocery store. In the case of Duncan Campbell, who has been living happily without a fridge for three years, it was the food he was used to eating. “

  2. LeeAnn Balbirona says:

    The interesting thing is that many of these folks (at first glance) seem to have decided to go without the fridge to be more “green,” that is, to save energy, be kinder to the environment, blah, blah, blah…a lot of environmental-one-upsmanship. But as appliances become more efficient (as the article notes) this makes the “go green” argument less persuasive. If it doesn’t save you much money, and doesn’t really cost that much energy, there has to be some other reason to do without. I think you’ve hit on the right reasons…we are no where near close to being ready for that step ourselves but it’s good to be able to see the goal clearly. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. LeeAnn Balbirona says:

    Oh, I meant to ask…did you keep your freezer?

  4. Kristin says:

    What would be most helpful is to know WHAT you’re eating at your meals and WHERE you’re getting them to prepare and eat! I just can’t imagine this . . .

    I’m still getting an image of what it must be like without dressers and individual closets and separate kids’ bedrooms . . .

    ; )

    • villapacis says:

      Well today, I had a cup of coffee in the morning and worked outside all day. Dania brought me a big glass of lemonade around 2pm and I grabbed some bread around midday when I took a break. I came in for dinner, had two bowls of country ham and bean soup (yum…) with some wheat bread and two big glasss of water.

      Yesterday, I had some oats with milk and bananas for breakfast and 2 cups of coffee (worked till 3am the night before). I had a beer at midday and a bowl of chili and some bread at dinner with a big glass of lemonade.

  5. Kelly Rosamond says:

    How do you save your vegetables for your 3 winter months, when the garden is not putting out? I understand not needing it for meat, milk and eggs. Do you serve your milk warm from the cow?

    Also, we are in the habit of refrigerating meals when our children don’t finish their food during the allowed meal time, to take back out and serve later. It is sort of a natural consequence of not eating your food (for whatever reason). If they don’t eat their salad at dinner, into the fridge it goes, and the next day it is breakfast. If you don’t have a fridge, how do you deal with making kids eat what they are served within a reasonable amount of time?

    • villapacis says:

      Well, in NC, the garden is producing in the winter. We eat turnips, greens and broccoli through much of the winter, but beyond that, we don’t worry about forcing vegetables into our diet. In the winter, we have eggs and buy whatever we need.

      As for milk and leftovers, those are suburban life issued created by the suburban life. After meals in our house, the leftovers go to the animals. NO ONE EVER LEAVES FOOD ON THEIR PLATES!!! That’s called feeding kids who aren’t hungry. Hungry kids eat with no complaints. Also, if you serve more food than the kids eat, just serve them less. You can always get more. Why invent the whole saving meals fiasco?

      We don’t live with the doctor’s office fear of undernutrition…give me a break. In America, we have obese people worried about their vitamins and nutrients. We need so much less than we’re used to eating and the health fears are irrational…as if rickets develop when a kid only drinks half of his milk at dinner. Kids who are active and working eat well because their appetite is driven by the desire to replenishment…not some meal designed to delight a fat belly. My kids drink tons of water, eat bread and vegetables plain…right out of the garden…and never complain about a meal…because they’re hungry and they need food and water. If you exercise you’ll know that after a hard workout your body doesn’t want soda or junk food…it wants WATER. A healthy life produces healthy tastes. Keep the whole life in mind…not individual parts.

  6. Don't get it says:

    Wait, I’m unclear on the milk and eggs (and any beef that may have been in the chili). There is no storage of milk, eggs, or meat at all? I guess you eat (or give away) all the eggs before they spoil. Maybe you’ve conditioned your cows and only milk them as much as you’ll consume in a day. And I know red meat is rare at VP, but there’s no storage of any, ever?

    • villapacis says:

      We don’t eat red meat very often and if/when we do, we’ll just pick some up at the store. We only eat it on special occasions. With Mom 7 mo. pregnant in the middle of the planting season, there are a few “special occasions”. As for meat storage, we prefer to keep it store on the animal rather than in our freezer. This is why the whole large-animal meat eating idea is owed to the supermarket, not the family farm. We eat chickens for meat (individually wrapped and easy to prepare) and may on a special occasion roast a lamb. There’s no reason to eat meat as most families do. It’s not healthy and assumes a whole system of production, butchering, transportation, refrigerating, etc.., is in place.

      When we do buy some meat, we buy what we need for a meal and we certainly don’t raise cows for beef. You could sell them, but that’s a miserable business to get into and we don’t want to pay to keep 500lbs of red meat frozen 24/7…when we don’t even want it. The whole thing is pretty dumb…and it’s driven by a tongue wanting red meat. I’d rather just tell that tongue, “No.” and save all the trouble. Don’t you see how the tongue drives the modern diet? Historically, it’s insane. If people had to prepare their own meat, they would understand how rarely it is to be eaten. We eat a lot less in general than most American families and rarely eat meat. In fact, we used to laugh that on Fridays, my wife would make a fish dinner (which is supposed to be an act of self-denial) and my kids would celebrate like it was thanksgiving. Our normal menu is far lighter than fish on Friday. Then, think of the deep fried fish dinners being served in the parish hall in Lent…this is only possible in a society obsessed with eating.

      You control the number of eggs you get by controlling the number of hens. Every few days, we collect enough for a big egg meal and we eat them all. There will be a new store in a few days and we’ll eat them again. As for milk, we’re not running a dairy pumping out 100 gal. per day. We milk for our food. Adults aren’t sitting around drinking glasses of ice cold milk for the heck of it. A bottle of milk can be kept cold in a cold water bath with a wet towel wrapped around the bottle…no big deal.

  7. Theresa Squire says:

    There you go! I was wondering where you would chill your beer. I guess right next to the milk!

    Do you have a root cellar?

    • villapacis says:

      What we are doing for cool storage is simple. We have a crawlspace under the house that is always dark and cool. We have a closet under the stairs (inside) beside the kitchen, which we use as our food pantry. We cut out the floor in the closet and set a screen over the hole. That lets the cool air from under the house into that closet and keeps the closet cooler than the rest of the house. In the winter, it will refrigerate the food, being close to the same temperature as outside.


  8. LeeAnn Balbirona says:

    The screened open-air closet is a neat idea. A lot of older houses have them in my area…although most people have forgotten what they are for and have boarded them up. And we have the same set up in our kitchen…closet under the stairs right here and it’s empty! (thanks to selling all the stuff in it at the curriculum sale)…I will have to run this idea past David sometime in the future. Will you weather strip that door to keep the cool air from spreading to the rest of the house? Or is that not a problem in your climate?

    • villapacis says:

      One of the differences in older homes was that he goal was to keep people warm, not the air throughout the whole house. In modern homes, kids run around the house in T-shirts in January with the central heat cranked up. It doesn’t matter if the house is generally cold if the people are dressed warmly and there are warm spots where folks can warm up. There is a fire place in our office, where we spend our evenings. Our goal is not to keep a warm HOUSE but to make sure the PEOPLE in it stay warm. This has more to do with clothing than warm air.

  9. Kristin Knight says:

    I’ve thought about this post for weeks – especially each time I pull something out of my fridge.

    Right now, my fridge is holding cauliflower, apples, carrots, mayonaisse, Dijon mustard, orange juice, milk, eggs, salsa, maple syrup, many types of cheese, half and half, chopped garlic, yogurt . . . .

    So, on a farm, I would either not have these items at all or they’d come straight from the garden, pasture, dairy animal, etc.?

    What did you used to hold before you let the fridge go completely and how did you wean yourself from a fridge?

    Do you have a deep freezer? What does it hold?

    Talk me through this a bit more . . . because it’s truly hard to imagine.

    Likewise, what do you buy at a grocery store these days?

    Are you completely eating locally and seasonally? No bananas? No pineapples? No out of season fruits or vegetables?

    Do you trade any of your goods with other local farmers for things you need?

    • villapacis says:

      Our situation is complicated by the CLAA. We have to go back and forth sometimes, just because the CLAA gets busy and we aren’t free to get the farm work done, so we’re not the best example. Our hands are tied by this little school thing (haha). Right now, the fridge is on because we’ve had to buy groceries to work on the CLAA around the clock and we’ve had visitors over the past month that knocked us out of the routine. We also turn the conveniences on when we have guests staying with us for some time. We’ll bring in food for the kids, etc.. to make them feel comfortable.

      The biggest thing for us is that we’re not meat-eaters. We hardly eat any meat at all–not because we’re vegetarians or anything, but simply because we like to eat light. Dania makes soups with meat and I usually pick the meat out and give it to the kids. We don’t store any meat, therefore, which is what most freezers are for. We have chicken and fish here if we really wanted it, and rarely eat beef at all. Dania eats some when she’s pregnant, but that’s really it.

      Dania goes to the grocery store once in a while (every other week?) for some cereal for the kids or for a break when she’s tired/busy. She’ll buy some pasta or sandwich stuff, coffee/tea, cooking supplies, toiletries and fruit. That’s really it. Oh yeah, she usually picks up some beer for me (Leinenkugel’s “Sunset Wheat”…yum).

      Remember, self-sufficiency is not about living like frontiersmen…it’s not DEPENDING on others for your basic everyday needs.

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