Going off grid with a fridge – well, I experimented and here are my results.
If you google/ecosia “living without a fridge” you will reach this article and many like it that involve a container placed within a sand wall and which works best in winter. So I’ll share my recent adventure with making an off grid type of African affair with clay pots and sand. I’ll share my reflections on food and also the seasons and ants. Too interesting!
The electricity-free fridge I chose is the type where you place a smaller clay pot inside a larger one then fill the space in between with sand. Now, I live in the desert in Far West NSW and it’s summer here (temps up to 50 degrees – 30 on a cool day) and this is probably not the best season to experiment with turning away from cold fridgey food storage. So I must admit here and now that I in fact did keep the fridge turned on although I emptied it. It really needed a thorough clean so I thought “now is the time to try the pots”.
And what I discovered was that most of the stuff in the fridge was condiments!
So I put what I thought would last in the pantry cupboard and reduced this lot down to the bare essentials that need a cool space in which to hang out eg margarine/butter – dairy products! The potatoes are still going strong on the benchtop which is great – it’s been weeks now since my experiment. The carrots from IGA went off in a couple of days – from throbbing orange to dessicated brown – I doubt they were “fresh” in the beginning – all things being snap-frozen these days.
Here are the 2 pots I bought – and the littler one fits snugly inside the bigger one.
The river sand I had left over from last year’s renovations and paving I simply scooped up off the front footpath. Handy that. And put it between the pots.
After I took this pic and looked at it, rest assured I cleaned out the bottom of that inside pot! 😀 and I placed a bread-plate on the bottom as well. This internal pot is where the sensitive food gets stored.
And the item that keeps the temperature inside quite cool is that brown towel or whatever is used that is constantly wetted and put over the top of the pots. It’s that water evaporation that keeps things under 20 degrees. I put a thermometre inside the pot and it was a fairly constant 18 degrees on quite hot days.
Reasons why it didn’t work as an option for me? – The ants! All one thousand of them!
The Nuttelex I use for butter stayed fresh and usable – it didn’t melt at all and it was in the pot for at least a week. Neither did the hunk of cheese that was in there. What kyboshed the whole operation was the presence of pesky ants. They have super smell and never give up and they discovered my stash after a few days. That’s when I called it quits and returned items to the fridge. My dream of suburban off grid life hit the water.
Now I also had some moments of pause in all this.
Firstly, in developing countries where electricity is at a minimum or not available and off grid is a way of life, food habits are radically different to developed-nations’ habits. I can buy food for future use, hence all the condiments etc. I can cook too much food for self and store it in the freezer for when I feel like eating it later. This tends to make me take food and its meaning for granted. If I had to rely on the pots then I would be shopping for fresh and ESSENTIAL food just for that day.
The pots store what you need for that day.
Secondly, there is no option of freezing anything. So my food consumption and spending around food is way too much in comparison with how underdeveloped countries get by. I take so much of my food’s availability for granted. I don’t tend to waste anything in my kitchen as I have a Bokashi bucket and put all food scraps in this for composting. And my dog helps me eat some food as well – she helps out with scraps and does pre-tasting and post-tasting jobs for me. She’ll happily drink that sour milk so it doesn’t go to the wrong kind of waste. But I assume I can freeze left-overs. It’s an essential function in my kitchen.
There’s a wonderful and humbling book called “What the World Eats” by Hungry Planet.
The startling contrasts are between the developed world and the less developed. For example compare the following images:
I don’t compare the two pix to shame us Aussies but rather to consider energy and storage and necessity etc. And what is required problem-solving for going off grid which is what I intend to do in the coming year, all things being equal.
I can see how the pots would work for this storage of grain and spices and herbs – and water. But the absence of dairy and meat is remarkable when the Aussie table is contrasted. All things are relative. The consumption of food is more immediate if you cannot store it even temporarily. And that’s what I learnt about my habits with the pots.
It made me realise that in my future off grid abode, I will hook up a fridge to solar. And I will have a root cellar for cool storage of preserves and harvests from my kitchen garden.
If you have any thoughts on food and how we westerners live in the lap of luxuries we take for granted or cherish, then feel free to share them in the comments below. Life is for cherishing after all,
Buen food camino,