Getting rid of your fridge: A money saver?

Here in Portland, several people I know are considering getting rid of their refrigerators -- just in time for spring. Two acquaintances are planning on turning their family fridge off in March, and another has been slowly planning her experiment for months. Part of it is to save money on electricity and to help reduce the harmful off-gassing of refrigerants. Part of it is just for the foodie joy and pioneer spirit. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the New York Times did a piece on going without refrigerators last week.

But, does it save money? It's a straightforward question with way too many variables. Crunchy Chicken and Greenpa have both weighed in and the battle lines are drawn. On the "modern conveniences are great!" side is Ms. Chicken, who proclaims that the energy savings may be little or none (especially if you're using a chest freezer for meats and such, as many fridge-free do) and the extra costs of shopping more frequently (unless you can walk to the store of course) and being unable to purchase and prepare perishable food in bulk outweigh the savings. She argues that you'll throw away the leftovers, to avoid harmful bacteria, and that waste of food and resources is untenable.

On the "what did our ancestors do?" side is Greenpa, who points out that his super-efficient freezer is only opened once a week, saving him 10% of the average American's electric bill, or so, and he makes tradeoffs to avoid needing the fridge. He cooks only a little fresh meat at a time and tends to avoid luxuries like ice cream and cold beer most of the time (one fridge-less person in the NYT article said her husband just put a beer in a cooler for an hour to get cold beer). He drinks powdered milk (if I ever go fridge-free, I will just keep my raw milk at room temperature, making a lot of yogurt in the summer to avoid excessive sourness; the cultures keep it "good" far longer than homogenized milk); he eats a lot of eggs and dried beans.He doesn't throw away leftovers; he subscribes to the "sterilization" camp -- put hot food in a canning jar or cooking pan with a tight lid, leave it out and warm it up past the bacteria-killing point when you're ready for more (though there are many who believe this is terrifically dangerous, he's been doing it for 30 years).

Going without a fridge would be a huge lifestyle change for most Americans, but one that could end up being financially fantastic for you. You'd have to make more considered grocery shopping choices, not purchasing a great amount of a food you probably won't eat. Buying dried fruit instead of fresh would avoid the problem of spoilage in the winter and spring; buying vegetables and fruits fresh in season is generally less expensive, and you'd be more likely to buy in appropriate quantities. You'd have to cut back on quickly-spoiling convenience foods like lunch meat and deli food; but that would save you money and be healthier as you selected cheaper alternatives (salami, after all, was meant to live at room temperature; stew meat is far cheaper and you'll end up eating it in stew!).

In my opinion, it's an admirable and cost-effective goal; you must go into it with an eye toward lifestyle change, but who would get rid of their fridge if it weren't part of a whole-hog reinvention of the way we live?

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