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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Someone fairly prolific in the radical green movement – I forget who exactly – once said that the refrigerator was the sign of a truly decadent society.

At first, this strikes me as remarkably unfair to the fridge. If anything, the poor old fridge seems like the most thrifty and considerate of kitchen appliances. It stretches out the lifetime of our food, thus cutting down our wastage and preventing us from taking daily trips to the shop. Freezing food is especially useful in this regard. I recently stumbled across a handy list of fifty tips for reducing food waste, and a good proportion of them suggest freezing bits of food that you might otherwise throw away. Day-old bread can be frozen for when you need breadcrumbs. Fresh herbs can be frozen in ice-cubes and then tossed into soups. Even the tops of carrots, peppers and onions can be frozen for creating vegetable stock later on.

But last week, I started using the Ration Me Up Carbon Ration Book, produced by the Ministry of Trying to Do Something About It for nef‘s event, The Bigger Picture: Festival of Interdependence. Running a fridge 24/7 takes up a greedy 15% of my monthly ration: 6 out of 39 coupons. That’s the same as travelling 200 miles on a train. The fridge no longer looks like such a sensible idea.

There is, apparently, a small contingent of very dedicated green activists who’ve cut out their fridge entirely. An alternative solution might be to only use the fridge in the summer, and simply store perishable food outside during the winter.

Zeer pot

A zeer pot in use: sand in the outer pot, food in the middle one. Photo via Practical Action.

More ingenious is the “zeer pot” clay fridge, a very simple technology increasingly being used by people in India and sub-Saharan Africa to preserve food. It consists of a two clay bowls, one inside the other. The gap between the bowls is filled sand and food is put into the inner bowl. The idea is that you then pour water over the sand, the water evapourates slowly and thus cools the food. According to development organisation Practical Action, a zeer pot can extend the shelf-life of vegetables from a matter of days to as much as three or four weeks. All without any electricity. They have an excellent guide to making your own zeer pot, if any of you decide you’d rather spend your carbon rations on watching TV or travelling around.

Of course, the simplest solution is to share the damned thing. A fridge which is empty uses more power than one which is full, so it makes sense to have your fridge stocked with other people’s food. (Apparently, you can even save energy by padding out your fridge with carrier bags full of newspaper!) By sharing my fridge usage with the three other people I live with, I only need to stick one and a half coupons onto my ration book.

The same principle goes for heating, lighting, cooking and buying new stuff. If we’re prepared to share, we can live within our carbon rations without having to sacrifice too many creature comforts.


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.