Why Was that Again?
Okay, let’s talk about the why first. Amazingly, even though the S hasn’t yet HTF, there are many people who have chosen – yes, I said chosen – to live without a fridge. Why would anyone do this? Why would you do this? Here are a few reasons:
- Fridge breaks down and you can’t afford to buy a new one
- Going without a fridge due to increasing energy prices
- Want to live off the grid, without electricity (I’ve considered this one myself, at least as an experiment)
- Living green, with less electricity use (fridges suck up a lot of electricity!)
- Living on a ship or in another tight space with no room for a fridge
There are times, too, when being without a fridge is not a matter of choice. The most obvious situation is an extended power outage due to a significant weather event. I have seen storms go through that have left people without electricity for up to two weeks or more.
Finally, if you are preparing for life post-collapse, then you will be planning to live with far fewer modern conveniences, including a fridge. Whether you have a bugout location (BOL) or you are planning for hard times as an urban prepper, working a lack of refrigeration into your plan is wise to say the least.
Live Like Country Folk in the City
The first thing you need to know is that far fewer food items need refrigeration that you might think. Many country folk know how to live this way, frugally, with fewer needs and extravagances, but never left hungry or feeling deprived. Let’s go through the various food types and their refrigeration needs.
Fruit does not need to be kept in the fridge, but some types of fruit have a shorter shelf-life than others. When purchasing fruit that will be stored without refrigeration, it is critical that you get fruit that has never been refrigerated. Once any produce has been refrigerated once, it will quickly go bad if it is not kept refrigerated.
Basically, the shelf-life of produce that has been refrigerated is cut in half compared to fresh produce that has never been in a fridge. It is difficult to get unrefrigerated produce at the local grocery store, but if you buy from farmers markets or direct from farmers, you shouldn’t have a problem. Here is a list:
- Apples and citrus fruit: 4-5 weeks
- Pineapples: 2 weeks
- Avocado, mango, and pears: 10 days to 2 weeks
- Bananas: 7-10 days
- Papaya and melons: 1 week
- Berries and other fruit: less than 1 week
Keep in mind that grapes will store for a decent amount of time if their stems are submerged in wet sand.
Herbs and Vegetables
Herbs and vegetables can also be kept very nicely without refrigeration, but as with fruit, purchase produce that has never been refrigerated. Also, all produce (including fruit) should be stored unwashed and it should be chosen very carefully to avoid any that is bruised, rotten, or overripe or that just looks old. Here is how to store some common vegetables and herbs:
- Potatoes and onions: 1-2 months (don’t store together as the onions will encourage the potatoes to sprout; remove potato eyes as they appear)
- Cabbage, garlic, and winter squash: 1 month (wrap cabbage in a towel or newspaper)
- Turnips, beets, tomatoes: 3-4 weeks (buy green tomatoes and wrap individually in paper towel)
- Carrots, zucchini, green peppers: 2 weeks (remove tops of carrots and peel and soak in water if they turn rubbery)
- Eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli: 1 week
- All other vegetables: less than 1 week
Keep in mind that lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs (basically anything with a stem) will store incredibly well if the end of the stem is placed in water (just the tip of the stem should be submerged).
Dan’s note: another good way of preserving fruits and veggies is to use wood ash. Dig a hole in the ground, fill it with ash and put them inside, making sure they don’t touch each other or the soil. Cover the hole with a wooden board.
Eggs, particularly farm-fresh eggs, can keep for at least a week on the counter. Just buy what you need for the week and replenish every week and you’ll be fine. Better yet, keep your own egg-laying chickens if you are able to. If you need to keep eggs longer or have bought eggs that have already been refrigerated, then turn them every day to prevent the air sac inside the egg from settling against one part of the shell for a prolonged period of time.
Many of the condiments we have come to love will keep just fine for many months without refrigeration. This includes peanut butter (even all-natural), catsup, relish, mustard, and mayonnaise. Other spreads, such as jams, jellies, maple syrup, and molasses will keep for 2-4 weeks. Honey has an indefinite shelf-life. It will never go bad, but it will crystalize.
Not all dairy products are equal. Milk is the difficult one, so let’s cover other products first:
- Butter: Butter will keep just fine on the counter for at least 2 weeks and as many as 4 weeks if it is in a cool place. You can also buy canned butter, which tastes just as good as regular butter, but has a longer shelf-life.
- Yogurt: Even commercially bought yogurt keeps for a number of weeks provided it is unopened. It’s best to get smaller sizes, or if you have a larger size, you eat it up within a day or two.
- Cheese: Hard cheeses that are coated in wax or vacuum-sealed will keep indefinitely without refrigeration. Semi-soft cheese will keep well if sealed, but will soften. If you have unpackaged cheese, then coat it in vinegar, wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it in a plastic bag.
Milk is an entirely different issue when it comes to living without a fridge. You’re just not going to get milk to last for more than 6 hours without refrigeration. The solutions are:
- Get your own milking cow or goat
- Buy your milk fresh every day
- Use powdered milk (yes, I know it tastes different, but it does the job)
- Use ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk, which has been heated to very high temperatures and can store unopened for 2-6 months
Meat is the other difficult culprit when it comes to living without refrigeration. Fresh meat will just not keep for a long time, so here are your options:
- Buy fresh every day that you want to eat meat and cook it right away
- Buy dried and/or canned meat
- Can and dry your own meat
- Go without meat or cut your consumption
If you buy your meat from the butcher and it is frozen and vacuum-sealed, then it will keep in a freezer bag or cooler for up to a week.
Can you preserve it without a fridge? Definitely. In fact, there are two: smoking and curing. I’ll leave the videos below tell you more about them:
Alternatives to a Fridge
There are alternatives to using a fridge that mean you don’t have to go completely without some sort of cold storage. It won’t solve the meat and milk issue, but it will help extend the shelf-life of most other foods. Here are some alternatives to refrigeration:
- A cold room in the basement
- A root cellar
- Large 5-gallon buckets (get used ones from a wine or grocery store) and place them in a hole in your yard; if the bucket has a lid and the food is under ground, it will stay cooler
- A cooler or cooler bag
- A zeer pot or pot-in-pot refrigerator (one smaller clay or terracotta pot inside a larger pot and separated by a barrier of wet sand)
- The great outdoors, such as a back yard or balcony, which is obviously only an option for people who live in colder climates.
Don’t Leave Yourself Dependent on Grocery Stores
A final note about living without refrigeration. When it comes to being prepared for any scenario that might befall the human race or even just your family unit, it is wise to have enough food stocked up for at least a few weeks. If you don’t have a fridge, then be sure you have enough non-perishable food to last your family should something happen that prevents you from getting food from a grocery store or another source for an extended period of time. After all, it wouldn’t do well to be prepared to live without refrigeration if we left ourselves without enough food if the SHTF.
Ready to Live Fridge-Free?
Having a fridge is perhaps the epitome of our privileged, gluttonous North American lifestyle. In many countries around the world, people live without the convenience of a fridge and they manage just fine. Will you have to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a lack of refrigeration? You bet!
There won’t be a cold drink waiting for you after you finish work, but you’ll get used to that. You will also only be able to cook smaller meals that won’t result in leftovers, but you will be eating fresher food, smaller portions, and less junk (like ice cream). This means you will be living a healthier lifestyle and be more motivated to reduce the amount of food you waste.
Hey, you can always try it for a month and see what you think. Your fridge will always be there if you decide you can’t live without it.