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Save Energy and Eat Fresh: Unplug Your Refrigerator
by Peggy Deland

canned fruits and vegetables According to the U.S. Department of Energy, refrigerators use more power than any other commonly owned appliance -- about twice as much as a dishwasher. But while most modern homesteaders gladly do without dishwashers and clothes dryers, few unplug their refrigerators. Believe it or not, going fridge-free isn't as hard as it sounds -- and some of the benefits may surprise you.

Of course, you'll need to think about how doing without a refrigerator will mesh with your lifestyle. The good news is that most foods kept in the fridge don't really need to be. One major exception to this is leftovers and pre-cooked meals, though some bulk cooking is still possible. Chili, soups and homemade sauces can be canned for long-term storage at room temperature, for example.

On the other hand, if you need to store fresh meat or other foods that won't keep at room temperature but you still want to reduce your energy use, a compromise may be in order. Many fridge-free households use an energy-efficient chest freezer for long-term storage and making ice.

Tips for Going Fridge-Free
Fruits and vegetables don't require refrigeration as long as they're used promptly. If you have your own garden, you can pick what you need throughout the season. This is especially true for leafy greens, which tend to wilt quickly at room temperature. There's no need to pick an entire head of lettuce or spinach -- just cut away a few leaves as needed and leave the rest to grow. Surplus fruits and vegetables that must be picked to prevent waste can be canned or dried for long-term storage.

Most condiments don't require refrigeration. Ketchup, mustard, barbeque sauce and Worcestershire will keep for months at room temperature. Jams, jellies and pickles will last for at least a few weeks after they're opened. Mayonnaise is another matter, of course, but it's surprisingly easy to make small batches of homemade mayo that tastes far better than any you'll find at the grocery store.

As for dairy products, the solution is a bit more complicated than moving food from the refrigerator to the pantry, but that doesn't mean going fridge-free is only for vegans. Some varieties of cheese can be stored at room temperature, including brined and hard aged cheeses like parmesan. Butter will stay fresh at room temperature for up to a
month if stored properly, and you can make your own mozzarella, cottage cheese, and yogurt in small batches to eat right away. If you keep goats or dairy animals, there's no need to worry about refrigerating the milk as long as you use it within the day. Fresh milk takes longer to spoil than you might think if kept in a clean, airtight jar. Fresh eggs will last at least three to five days at room temperature.

Of course, meat has a much shorter shelf life, but there are still plenty of options. You can dehydrate or smoke meat and fish for long-term storage. Dried sausages and salted country ham will also keep for a long time without refrigeration. On its own, canned meat is unappealing to most, but why not can your own meat-based soups, stews and sauces? And if you keep your own poultry, fresh meat is only an axe away -- just be sure to cook and use it quickly.

Besides reducing your household's power consumption, unplugging your refrigerator means you'll eat fresher -- and tastier -- foods. Once you've become accustomed to minutes-old mozzarella cheese and mayonnaise, milk so fresh it's still warm, and vegetables straight from the vine, you may not miss the convenience of a refrigerator.