Life Without a Refrigerator

I was participating in an online discussion today where another person who spent some time on the street was telling me that even if food stamps doubled, homeless people still would not eat fresh stuff due to lack of refrigeration. Well, I eat fresh stuff pretty often. Because of my medical condition, eating well is super important to my health -- and I am well aware that a high percentage of people on the street have medical problems.

So I thought, you know, rather than get into a pointless pissing contest with someone who is not really listening to me, I would take the feedback I was getting to mean that some folks on the street might really benefit from some ideas about how to get some fresh stuff into their diet in spite of not having access to a refrigerator. So here are a few things off the top of my head:

  • If you are really, truly limited to food stamps for a time and have no cash for hot meals, you can get cold deli foods for lunch, such as potato salad, sandwiches, a few slices of cheese (buy some good crackers, like Stone Ground Wheat Thins, to go with it), and cold meats (sometimes not just cold cuts, but also things similar to chicken tenders, but cold). In some stores, you can also get cold boiled eggs or sushi.
  • Babybel cheeses will keep without refrigeration as long as their wax coating remains unbroken. Hard cheeses, like parmesan, also do okay for a few days without refrigeration. Beef jerky and nut butters aren't exactly fresh foods, but they are good sources of protein that keep well without a refrigerator. You can often get peanut butter (and bread to put it on) for free from a food pantry. Because of my medical condition, I rarely eat peanut butter (also, it is kind of sweet, can attract insects and a jar of it can be heavy). I do sometimes buy hazelnut (and chocolate) spread or almond butter. I even sometimes get these in the very-expensive-per-ounce individual serving sizes. If you can afford it, it is convenient and keeps fine without a refrigerator and can be a healthy addition to your diet, to give you some variety.
  • I routinely leave sodas outside the tent overnight. I am in a secluded spot and there is little to no risk they will be stolen. By morning, they are usually on the cool side -- obviously, more so in winter than in summer but this trick works super well in spring and fall when it is warm enough that a cold drink is appreciated and cool enough at night for sodas to get pretty cold by morning. This also works to some degree to preserve produce or an opened bottle of fruit juice overnight. Refrigerators are usually around 40 degrees. If it is likely to get down to about 40 degrees, you can keep some perishables for at least one night, even though you don't have a refrigerator. So, open it late in the evening, consume what you can, and finish the rest at breakfast the next morning if it doesn't smell funny yet.
  • Butter will keep for a few days if you stick it in a Ziploc bag. You need to put it into a Ziploc bag mostly because it starts melting and gets messy, not to preserve it per se. Keeping it in your bag (back pack, large purse, whatever), out of the sun, etc can help keep it cooler, longer and help it remain semi-solid. I generally buy the small 8 ounce sizes of butter instead of the full sized 16 ounces of butter. Grab plastic butter knives from the deli and get some good quality bread and this is quite the treat to do once in a while. (Butter is a healthy fat that helps with my medical condition.)
  • Buy milk, fresh fruit, cream cheese, etc in small single-serve portions if necessary or, if possible, split it with someone and use it up promptly (within two hours of purchase). For example, I have a household of three adults & the three of us can polish off a half gallon of milk in one sitting periodically without any problem. In some cases, yes, this is relatively pricey. But in other cases, hey, a fresh banana can be around 25 - 35 cents. So, yes, I get that money can be a big issue and that can mean some stuff is just out of your price range but that doesn't mean you should go completely without fruits, veggies and other fresh/healthy stuff.
  • You can cut a small whole watermelon with a plastic knife or even the handle of a plastic fork if necessary. I have done it. You do not need a metal knife to handle watermelon or many other things.
  • Bananas are extremely convenient and don't require any utensils or clean up. Oranges are a decent option, but be prepared to wind up sticky and in need of washing your hands. If you keep spray peroxide and hand sanitizer on hand, you can use one of them to clean up afterwards. You can also rinse your hands in some public fountains or in ocean water or wash them in a public restroom. I tend to plan to eat an orange when and where I know that I will have a good chance to put the peel in a trash can and properly wash hands. (I do sometimes, stick the peel in a Ziploc bag and keep it for a few days. Eating a little orange peel is the most effective treatment I know for allergies. It is cheap and has no drug side effects.)
  • Dried fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds. These are often out of my price range, but I do buy them occasionally. Again, they aren't exactly fresh foods, but they are healthy foods and they do keep well without refrigeration.
  • I always have quart sized Ziploc bags on hand. It helps me store leftovers of all sorts safely. Another reason to stick things in Ziploc bags: So insects and animals don't smell your leftovers and try to get into your stuff. I no longer get ant trails into my tent and into my food supply. That used to happen sometimes and it was awful. I am careful to try to get what I expect to eat tonight and for breakfast and store it carefully and to take trash away from my site every morning.