Most days I do not sit and remember the joys of refrigeration, wishing I had a container that would keep my food cold. Nor do I think of the cool wisp of air that tickles one's cheek upon opening the refrigerator door. I do not even reminisce on the soft swells that waft out of it. Life without a fridge is easy, even better.
Okay, all of that is a lie. I do remember, but I truly do not think about the beauties of such a device very often. I probably would if I did not have a family cooking for me. Luckily, I only prepare my own breakfast, and eggs can keep outside of the fridge for two weeks or longer. I never knew they could be kept out for a day before I came to Fiji.
The most important lesson I learned when I began life without a refrigerator was how to shop. Since I could not keep anything for long, I had to learn which fruits and veggies keep longest, what westerners assume needs to be refrigerated but actually does not, and how much of each item to buy to survive in my village for two weeks to two months.
In the category of what lasts longest, I learned that the more water a fruit or vegetable contains, the shorter its lifespan. This means that greens and fruits of all sorts do not make the cut. All fruits need to be plucked from trees in the village once they ripen, so I do not eat them very often. Eggplant, pumpkin, and carrots all last for a fairly long time, as do staples such as onions, chilies, and garlic.
Dry goods are always a good thing to have around because they last forever. Typically, I keep beans in a bug-proof container for the days where I feel like cooking my own food or my family forgets to bring my meal (not very often). Right now I have dhal (split peas) and black-eyed peas. Occasionally I find black and pinto beans, which I buy immediately. Other dry goods are things that we do not typically think about in the States, such as powdered milk.
Canned goods are obviously a good option when there is no refrigerator because they last nearly forever and are not affected by the heat and humidity. However, the boat ride and four-hour bus ride to town make it a pain to haul a bunch of heavy cans from town to my village, so I tend not to buy them. Also, the cans are not burnable, so they end up getting buried on the beach if I am lucky, or washed out to sea if I am not.
Cooking is also affected by the ailment of fridge-less-ness. Everything I make has to be the exact portion of what I want to eat at that moment. There is no way to make a heap of food and save the leftovers so I do not have to cook later. Occasionally, I make too much and have to eat it for the next meal. Most things made at dinner time can be saved until the next morning, as long as I re-cook it before eating. Even fish can be eaten the next day provided it is fried before consumption.
Items considered staples in America, such as butter and cheese, are unavailable to me completely. Both are unusable within two days. A sort of makeshift fridge can be made to keep cheese for a couple of days by putting it in a plastic bag, then placing that bag in another plastic back, and letting it sit in a bucket of cool water. However, this is not even worth it, especially considering a small block of crappy cheese is FJD $6.
Because I have to take a twenty-minute boat ride and then a four-hour bus into town, I typically do my shopping in the village. This means I can only buy simple things like split peas, Ramen noodles, onions, garlic, and tuna. I can order eggs once a week, which I do occasionally when I'm tired of dhal for breakfast. But a bag of Dhal lasts about four to five days and costs FJD $2.50, whereas eggs are FJD $5.50 per dozen and I need to buy two dozen for one week. On a shoestring budget, the former is my usual choice.
For all of these reasons, I made the decision over a year ago to pay a family in the village FJD $10 per week to cook for me. This has been a huge money and time saver.
Life with a refrigerator is manageable. However, try to remember what a huge life changer the appliance is. Appreciate it. Most of the world does not have the luxury of saving leftovers, keeping cheese, buying groceries a week or two in advance, or pre-making the week's meals. I know when I return to America I will never take the fridge for granted again.