Fridge Dare

A few months ago, the Home section of the New York Times ran a story about “a small segment of the green movement” who have “come to regard the refrigerator as an unacceptable drain on energy, and is choosing to live without it.”

When I first saw this story I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer decided to do without his fridge in an effort to eat more healthfully. “I only want to eat fresh food,” Kramer declared. “No more stored food.” I think you can guess what happened to Kramer’s harebrained idea by the end of the show.

As a former newspaper food editor, I can appreciate the fact that newspapers are in constant need of new story ideas or new angles on old stories. But this one strains credulity. The first red flag was the term “a small segment of the green movement,” referred to elsewhere as “a few environmentalists.” A few people are doing all sorts of things. That doesn’t mean they are worth writing about

Rachel Muston, a member of that “small segment” and one of the people interviewed for the story, says that “it seems wasteful to me to use even an Energy Star-rated fridge.” And yet, she has a “small freezer” in the basement. My initial reaction was “why not have a smaller refrigerator and no freezer?” But according to a spokesperson from Frigidaire, going from a standard fridge to a mini saves only about $6 a year in energy costs. And even a standard refrigerator only uses about $40 to use over the course of a year, less than a standard clothes dryer. (Muston dries her clothes on a line outside, though one wonders what she does in the winter. She lives in Ottawa, Canada.)

Even though Muston installed an energy efficient furnace, she still has a three story house to heat. Wouldn’t living in a smaller one or two story house be more energy efficient, particularly since it appears that she and her husband Scott are the only ones who live there?

Muston acknowledges that there are some drawbacks. She and Scott used to eat more prepared food that would be stored in the refrigerator. Now they just have a cooler (chilled by bottles of water frozen in the freezer) that is too small. So Muston has to cook more. Which takes more energy!

Beth Barnes, another member of that merry band of fridge-less environmentalists, also uses a cooler, which she refills daily in the summer with ice that she gets from an ice machine in her office. Wasn’t the refrigerator supposed to be an improvement over the “ice box?” What’s next, rubbing two sticks together to start a fire to cook dinner?

This isn’t the first time the Times has run a story about people going off the environmental deep end. Two years ago, Penelope Green wrote a story about a couple in New York who were on a yearlong quest to live with almost no carbon footprint. This experiment, which they called No Impact, involved eating only food organically grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan (think lots of parsnips and turnips in winter); no (or very little) nonfood shopping; producing no trash (except for food scraps that went into a compost heap); and using no carbon-fueled transportation (like riding a scooter to work, even in the snow).

Weirdest of all was eschewing paper, as in paper towels, napkins, and, you guessed it, toilet paper. How did they clean themselves after a visit to the potty? Don’t ask.

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