Surprisingly little of our food needs refrigeration.
One January in Paris, I held a well-wrapped bag of Brie outside my third-floor window.
Street lamps shone on deep green leaves as snow melted in the cool air. I wound my window closed, holding the edge of the bag until it was firmly secured in the protective corner of the outer pane.
With hundreds of students and only one kitchen, leaving food in the communal fridge was like giving it away.
Four years later, in my new apartment in Toronto, I stood in front of what sounded like a fridge with bronchitis. I started to view it less as a useful appliance than as an unneeded annoyance.
In what felt like a radical decision, I unplugged my fridge.
The soft quiet that followed was my immediate reward. My shoulders relaxed slightly and I remembered the ease of my time in Europe, anticipating Toronto's local markets and eating simply. I mused that living more lightly on the earth would mean feeling lighter myself.
Canadians are among the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world, and it's no accident that our lives often have a high degree of small but cumulative stresses that will only intensify if we fail to shift to simpler ways as resources dwindle in the future.
We overdo life, and then escape to places with a lower consumption rate for our vacations, trying to regain some sense of balance. We need to find ways to weave rhythms compelling us to slow down into the fabric of life here - be it a regular siesta, a two-hour meal with friends or regular trips to the market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
Our conveniences have isolated us from nature and its cycles. It's easy enough to choose to unplug, get rid of our frosty steel, acknowledging that to be human is to be connected with our true source of life, the earth.
After disconnecting my fridge, I found myself in new conversations with my family. I learned more about my father's family grocery store. His father and neighbours had built a barn and insulated it with sawdust. A man sold them huge chunks of ice that he had cut from the river each winter and brought back with horse and cart.
Stored in their barn, the ice lasted all year, and they used it to keep the meat cold in the store that served Guelph's Little Italy. I was amazed that with absolutely no power other than a horse and strong arms, they were able to maintain a grocery that fed the neighbourhood.
Surprisingly little of our food needs refrigeration. Cups of herbs or red chard kept in water are a cheerful reminder of the passage of time and will keep you alert to their metamorphoses.
Lighter veggies such as basil or lettuce last two to three days, depending on your kitchen temperature. All hardier vegetables last for a week, while yams, squash, onions and potatoes can last months.
Cheese and butter will last in a zip-lock bag in cold water. This is a tip I got from a German acquaintance who also lived without a fridge.
I now have an indoor herb garden that supplies me with fresh herbs and teas. There's nothing more invigorating than the smell of fresh mint upon coming home.
I realized elatedly after turning off my fridge that somehow I had equated it with the natural life of my food. But produce has its own cycles and never knew the inside of a crisper until about 50 years ago.
Seeing my food arranged on the counter makes me feel blessed and keeps me aware of what I need to eat. When I want something that really should be kept cold, I grab it at a shop, tossing it into my bag or pocket like a regular Huckleberry Finn.
You gain a feeling of freedom from buying just what you need.
One of the biggest drawbacks can by summed up by my friend Albert's question: "But what about ice cream?" An ecologist, Albert decided to accompany me on this journey - in his own way. Indeed, what about cold beer?
Albert's solution was to use his unheated mud room in winter and to buy a very small, ecologically sound fridge for the summer.
I chose a cooler and snow in winter, and the Annex sherbet stand in summer.
Room-temperature beverages are less shocking to our system, but when entertaining I buy crushed ice to chill whatever I'll be serving. In the cold months I use fresh snow.
In winter, I stored some ginger-carrot soup by putting a small pot into a larger soup pot filled with pure snow and wrapping it in a wool blanket. What a great feeling when it worked! Using ingenuity rather than energy makes everyday life an adventure seldom experienced any more.
In the past, leftovers were like guests that had worn out their welcome. Post-fridge, I take fresh leftovers to share with my neighbour Bradley. When I had a bad cold, he heard me coughing through the walls, called and offered to buy me some oranges. In an unsocial condo setting, we forged a true bond.
It's now been over a year since I used a fridge.