Okay, folks. You want to be “green” and go without your refrigerator, that huge thing in the corner of your kitchen that eats electricity.

As I pointed out in my previous post, the folks in the NYTimes article who claimed they were doing that were really faking it by using freezers in the basement or ice chests that required electricity to make ice.

But I also pointed out that you could use a gas or kerosene refrigerator if you lived off the electric lines or in a city that has frequent “brownouts”.

We have this problem, especially now, in “summer” season, before the May monsoon starts, when brownouts are common. (Our electricity is from a hydroelectric plant: No rain, low power. Yes, we have a generator, but it’s expensive and we only use it when we need to).

But how do you keep food fresh if you really want to go “green”and keep refrigeration to a minimum?

The first way is to use only fresh food.

Here in the Philippines, we have limited refrigerator storage and a lot of employees to feed. So our cook shops every day for meat/fish and vegetables. (We grow our own organic rice, which is the staple at every meal).

What do you do if you don’t have a full time cook, and don’t live down the street from a grocery store?
One solution is to get together with your neighbors and take turns buying groceries.

Fruits and vegetables will keep for a few days at cool room temperature, as will staples like cooked rice.  The trick for food that has been cooked but is left over is to keep the ants out. To do this, you need decent plastic storage containers. Here, such containers don’t last long, or are too small. Our ordinary meal is a soup/stew of meat or fish and vegetables, with lots of broth that we use to mix with our rice. Often the amount of soup left over won’t fit in our refrigerator, so instead the cook places the entire covered pot of leftover soup in the microwave oven (!) to keep out the ants, or else she has it in the corner, on a dish that holds it above a larger dish full of water.  The ants drown before they get to the food, and voila, cold rice for you to fry with an onion or garlic to eat for breakfast with your egg or dried/salted fish.

If the food isn’t eaten right away, the “trick” is to reboil it twice a day to keep the spoilage down. You end up with a soggy mess, more soup than stew, but it still tastes good.

We don’t eat much bread here, but when I lived in the US, I invested in a bread machine. Even as a busy doc, I could fill it in the evening and have fresh bread for breakfast…yes, it uses electricity, but not as much as the stove.

Luckily, most starchy food can be stored if dry: This includes rice, pasta, and flour, and dried beans. Cook only as much as you need.

Of course, here in the Philippines, we have seasonal fresh vegetables and fruit all year round.But what if you live in northern Minnesota?

Well, you could freeze your vegetables, or keep an old fashioned ice house, or bury them in a cool root cellar covered with straw to keep them from freezing. That’s how folks in the old days kept apples and potatoes and cabbage and carrots fresh all winter long.

But you might want to do what country folks have always done: Can them. Buying in bulk (or growing your own) and then canning them is old fashioned, but many folks do it, and not only in the country.

When I lived in the US Mountain states, our LDS neighbors all had gardens and canned everything. Many kept food stored for Winter or to tide them over in times of trouble. Just go to the LDS Living magazine or Mormon blogs for hints on food storage that have worked in the real world for 150 years.

Another resource, but one that is more for folks who want to live off the land, is  Backwoods magazine.

The real problem is dairy products.In the US, you can usually pick up milk at the local gas station every day, and keep it on ice. If you live in the country, often farmers will allow you to get fresh milk from the cow for a small fee or as a service for their friends. Then there are goats: when I lived in a farm area in the mountains of the US, we had one goat on our small plot of land, and we got half a gallon of milk a day from her.

To make the shelf life longer, you can make yogurt or farmer’s cheese, which will keep a day or two if kept cool. When I visited my kid’s home in Colombia, when we didn’t have fresh milk, we put a smidgen of farmer’s cheese into the coffee to cut the bitter taste. But why go to that bother when coffee creamer powder is easy to buy?

But for longer life, there is ultrasterilized milk from New Zealand, and milk powder. Since most Asians are lactose intolerant, yogurt drinks and probiotic milk based drinks are common here. There also is soy and rice milk products in many American supermarkets (if you can’t find them, check out Walmart, where the immigrants tend to shop).

One item that fills the shelves of most American refrigerators is the leftover food. The trick is to cook small amounts, so there is no left over problem, or eat the left overs for breakfast. Potato pancakes or fried rice work fine for breakfast, or you can fry an onion, add the left over meat and veggies, top with an egg (and maybe cheese) and place over the left over noodles/rice or potato.

So unless you are rich enough for a full time cook to do your shopping, or lucky enough to work at home, I suggest you don’t try to go “green” by not having a refrigerator, but instead to save time and energy and gas money by buying in bulk, and then learning to can or store it properly.

But it is possible to live without the refrigerator, or with only a small one, to save on electric bills. You just have to live more like your grandmother.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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