As you may know, I currently live in my car. I spend every night on reclined seats, pushed as far back as they can go (and yet never fully flat), stuffed into a sleeping bag with my ankles secured firmly by the front seats and the emergency parking brake. I shower in lakes sometimes, and hang my laundry off the side of the Cherry Bomb, my trusty steed. It’s not a glamorous life. But for all the comforts such transience denies, such as a working back and relatively clean underwear, I’ve been honestly shocked how well I’ve been eating.
You wouldn’t think I’d get any sort of nutrition at all. My kitchen consists of a single burner camping stove, a 20L cube of water, a pot, a pan, a cutting board, a knife, and a few spoons and forks. I keep all my food in a little grocery bag behind the front seat. I sure as shit don’t have a refrigerator. Cooking is difficult. But after spending so long dealing with these less-than-ideal circumstances, I’ve decided that the reason I’m eating so well is precisely because of these hardships. Suddenly, I can’t rely on buying loads of food and eating when I feel like it – I have to plan and prepare each individual meal carefully and lovingly. I have to be smart. And everybody wants to be smart.
So try it out for yourself: the 30 Day No Fridge Challenge.
You, the reader, most likely live with at least a few creature comforts. You have a room dedicated to food of some sort, with multiple tools to use in preparing these tools. All I’m saying, to replicate what I’ve been living with, is that you should take away only one: your fridge. Try, for one month, to get by without using a refrigerator.
- Unplug your fridge, and don’t plug it back in for 30 days. Any food currently in the fridge should be eaten before taking the challenge, or donated to a food bank.
- Paying somebody else to make you food is basically cheating. You may eat out for three meals a week. This means one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner. Getting coffee or a scone on the way to work counts as a meal out. It’s also against the spirit of the challenge.
- MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) aren’t allowed either, so no going to the store and buying a frozen pizza to throw straight in the oven, and don’t even bother buying enough Pringles to last you a month.
- Canned foods are fine. If you try living solely off them, though, you’ll give up after a week. Canned beans are disgusting alone. Use them to complement your meals, not to complete them.
Have you ever realized how much you rely on your fridge? You go grocery shopping and throw half that shit straight into the back of your big white monster’s gullet, where you’ll forget about it, eating the same shit you always do. You’ve got a few recipes you know by heart, and you never try anything else. So that extra food you bought on a whim? It’s just sitting there until it rots, even with the life-saving chill around it. You’ll stumble across it a few months later, right before it bursts like some kind of bacteria-laden alien egg, and you’ll hold your nose, tossing it in the trash, before making the same chicken and rice you’ve eaten for dinner every goddamn night for a week.
Look in your own fridge. How many extra sauces are lining the door? How many gallons of expired milk have you thrown out? How many boxes do you have in your freezer, gathering more and more frost, until you have to unplug the whole thing anyway just to chip away all the ice and get some more room in there for whatever else you decide to buy and never eat?
By unplugging your refrigerator, you’re gonna need to think longer and harder about what you’re actually doing with your nutrition. You can’t go to the store and buy food with the idea that you may eat it eventually, and you can’t buy things in huge quantities. You’ll need to plan, and go to the store accordingly. It will be hard at first, but the benefits come quickly:
- You’ll eat better. You’ll cut out a lot of those unhealthy, flavor-enhancing sauces that need to be refrigerated after opening. When you can’t use things like mayo and mustard, you’re forced to replicate those forceful flavors with things that stay fresher out of the fridge in small portions – things like eggs, vegetables, spices, and other foods that aren’t processed by slave children and dying unicorns. And when you can’t keep things like soda or beer cold, you’ll resort to drinking tap water, which is infinitely better for you anyway.
- You’ll get more creative. When you can’t save your food for long, you’re forced to go to the store more often, which means you’ll be surrounded by infinite amounts of food. This in turn, will inspire you more and more with all the different combinations you start to come up with. Nobody wants to buy the same can of tuna every day for a month.
- You’ll eat smarter. No more making big loads and cramming, then snacking on the leftovers whenever you want. You’ll be eating set meals at set times, with set portions. Buying too much means that you’ll be wasting food when you can’t eat it fast enough.
- You’ll begin to enjoy eating. Cooking is a process, yeah, but when you’re doing it with purpose, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more than when you see it as a hassle to get through after work. It becomes part of your day instead of a chore.
There are some benefits you’ll notice only at the end. Namely, the cost. Refrigerators use more energy (up to 13% of your home’s total use) than any other appliance in the home, and that’s discounting the ice-maker. The only one that comes close is the air conditioner, and that’s completely optional. Your refrigerator is always on, sucking up energy that could have been used to power lifesaving equipment at the local children’s hospital. By using your refrigerator, you’re essentially killing small, cancer-ridden children. But by unplugging the fridge for a full month, you stand to reduce your carbon footprint, and save a packet on your power bills and groceries that would have otherwise gone unused.
I haven’t had a fridge in months. So when I go to the store, what do I buy? Sure, I suppose I could just buy things like chips, easy snacking food. Shut up. What I buy is this:
- Spaghetti and rice. It doesn’t go bad, and you can make very precise portions.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables. I buy things like avocados, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, bananas, apples, and other food that you don’t need to refrigerate. It’s healthy (they’re fucking vegetables, man!), and it forms the base for most of what I eat.
- Peanut Butter. It’s great for you and goes well as a snack with a lot of different foods.
- Eggs. No matter what Americans think, you don’t need to refrigerate it.
- Spices and oil. They don’t go bad.
- Meat. The caveat is that you can’t buy big packs of meat to throw in the freezer. If you want sausages for breakfast, or chicken or steak for dinner, you’re gonna need to buy it each day, and only what you’ll eat. What I’ve found is that this encourages you to buy the smaller packages of humanely-raised chicken, or artisanal links of sausage. The larger, mass-farmed packages are usually just too large.
- Canned foods like tuna and beans. These don’t go bad, but they’re boring and gross on their own, so I have to spice them up with my own recipes and ideas.
What I don’t buy:
- Bread. I’ve found that when I’m making each individual meal at a time, I can’t get through a full loaf before mold sets in.
- Soda/Milk/Beer. I can’t keep it cool, so I stick to water. If a recipe calls to milk, I’ll go and buy one of those little cartons.
- Pre-made sauces. I don’t buy mayo or mustard or ketchup or anything else that you need to refrigerate after opening. And yeah, I know it doesn’t go bad all that quickly, but cooking habits form where you won’t be using them much anyway. If I want sauce for my spaghetti, I’ll make my own out of fresh tomato.
- Butter. I know you can probably keep it in your kitchen, but there’s nowhere in my car to store it without it getting squashed all over everything. So I just don’t buy it.
So what do you say? Are you up for the challenge?